Mind the gap
Marking Close the Gap Day from Mabo to Mungo to Mad Bastards.
Close the Gap Day on 21 March was recognised by Girra Maa and the Graduate School of Health through its invitation to staff and students to participate in the ‘10 ways to connect challenge’. The challenge involved using a self-directed checklist – – as a fun and stimulating way to expand peoples’ understanding and confidence about Aboriginal peoples and culture. Some of the activities included watching a film by an Aboriginal filmmaker, reading a book by an Aboriginal author and following @IndigenousX on Twitter!
Fiona Scott, the School’s Manager, was one of the people who registered to take part in the 10 ways to connect challenge. Fiona shares her reflections on taking part in the challenge and the rich discussions that followed in the yarning circle over a cuppa and home-baked loaf.
The ‘10 ways to connect with Aboriginal Australia’ challenge!
Dr Megan Williams, our Head of the Girra Maa Indigenous Health Discipline, opened the yarn by reading a reflection on the importance of having fun and doing new things to challenge ourselves – even at work!
I was amazed at the stories that unfolded in the group, with some people talking about their personal journeys - finding out about their Aboriginal ancestry, and how excited they are finding this reconnection with self, Country and extended family.
Another GSH participant, Associate Professor Alison McEwen (Genetic Counselling) reflected on her journey:
Participating in the challenge and the yarn encouraged me to reflect on my experiences getting to know Aboriginal Australia in the 18 months I’ve lived in Sydney. I particularly liked the way the yarn began with a shared Acknowledgement Of Country and the way Dr Williams consistently supports and encourages us all to take that moment to pause, acknowledge country and fully ‘arrive’ in the space for meeting, yarning, or working together.
We reflected on how connections with each other at work are important and how much there is to learn from Indigenous peoples when we tune in. Highlights included the interweaving histories of Eddie Koiki Mabo the land rights campaigner, and Mungo Man and Mungo Lady.
It was interesting to hear about Eddie Mabo’s breakthrough legal case in the mid-1970s where he won the recognition of land rights for the Meriam people of the Murray Islands in Torres Strait. (You can learn more about this remarkable story by watching the film on UTS’ live streaming service).
We also heard about how the mid-1970s sparked the beginning of another extraordinary story and situation; the uncovering of human remains on the banks of Lake Mungo, providing Western scientists with evidence (beyond Aboriginal oral histories) that people had been in that area for at least 40,000 years (you can also check out the repatriation journey of the remains of ’Mungo Man’ and ‘Mungo Lady’ on ). The story allows us to hear Mungo Man and Mungo Lady’s descendants talking about the approximately 40-year journey: the distress of having their ancestors uncovered and removed, and then, the benefits of having their story told. The information was also used as powerful evidence for land ownership and rights during the Mabo case and continues to be used as evidence today.
Megan facilitated the discussion from the nature of evidence to shifting the deficit discourse and negative imagery often portrayed about Aboriginal people in all forms of media. This led to us talking about an Aboriginal-made film where ‘real’ people rather than actors tell the story of ‘TJ’, a mixed-up fella travelling to his son’s Country to meet him for the first time.
Megan said the film is challenging viewing in parts (due to scenes of violence), but it also shows many examples of how Aboriginal people empower themselves and each other to bring about family healing. She also said that these films and our discussions remind us that Aboriginal Australians are in many ways very different from non-Aboriginal Australians.
This made me think about how we all need to explore more opportunities to learn about Aboriginal Australians. At the end of the yarn we ended by noting that it is an ongoing and lifelong journey.
UTS Graduate School of Health