Indigenous cultural camps teach city school students on Gunggari country

On the quiet banks of the Maranoa River in south-west Queensland, a group of students from the city is getting the lesson of a lifetime.

Mitchell is seven hours’ drive away from the glitzy tourist hub of Noosa, where these year 10 students hail from, but it may as well be a world away.

They’re on Gunggari country getting a taste of Aboriginal culture for the first time.

Student Faith Pink admits she did not know what to expect.

“I haven’t properly met an Aboriginal person before and got to know them,” Faith said.

“I really enjoyed meeting the aunts.

“I felt like I had a strong connection to them really easily and quickly.”

Important, but rare, relationships

They are not the only ones, with 65 percent of the general Australian community in 2020, never or rarely socialize with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to Reconciliation Australia.

That’s despite 56 percent of the general community viewing the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as very important.

Gunggari man Richard McCarthy is not surprised by the statistics.

A man sitting under the trees with a small dog on his lap
Richard McCarthy attends the camps to share their culture.(ABC Southern Queensland: Anthea Moodie)

“It’s a strange sort of thing about a lot of Australian people, [they] actually have never met an Aboriginal person,” Mr McCarthy said.

“Most of the information they get is from the news.”

spiritual home

That’s why Indigenous elders have invited students and others from across Australia onto their Mitchell ‘Yumba’ — their spiritual home — for camps to share their culture and knowledge.

The Yumba was a dedicated Aboriginal reserve where Gunggari families lived between the 1930s and mid-1960s.

The small homes were eventually bulldozed in 1968, but the old school remains.

So too does the spiritual significance, and it’s being shared with those of Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage.

A young man kneeling in front of smoke coming from leaves.
Students camp at the Yumba and learn from elders.(ABC Southern Queensland: Anthea Moodie)

The pride in Mr McCarthy’s voice is clear when he speaks of the camps’ impact.

“The easiest way to create change is actually to teach young people,” he said.

“It is important. There needs to be a really good change towards the better for all of us as Australians.

“It really fills me with happiness to see the work being done.”

A man in a red jacket sitting on a log speaking to school children.
Mr McCarthy shares stories and poetry with groups.(Supplied: Chris Gresham-Britt)

Groundwork to reconciliation

The working and cultural camps began in September 2021 after COVID-19 restrictions meant camp groups had to look for closer-to-home options instead of international trips.

Since then, 14 groups including adults, school cohorts, youth justice and high-risk children have embarked on the spiritual journey.

They camp under the stars and learn cultural traditions from elders, all while working towards a strategic plan created by the elders three decades earlier.

The finance director at not-for-profit organization RAW Impact, Jen Gresham-Britt, said it was a growing concept.

“I think it’s very easy to have blinkers on when we go about our everyday life and to ignore what’s happened in our own country,” Ms Gresham-Britt said.

“As the kids have spent more time with the elders here, you can see that acknowledgment of this being a real privilege and honor start to sink in.”

A drone shot of kids painting an old home.
The campers work on the Yumba including the old school building to create a welcoming space for Gunggari people to return.(Supplied: Chris Gresham-Britt)

As Australia ponders a referendum on introducing an Indigenous Voice to Parliament, these camps are doing the groundwork towards reconciliation.

Reconciliation Australia said 83 percent of the general community agreed that it was important for Indigenous histories and cultures to be taught in schools.

Mr McCarthy said, as the number of traditional elders dwindled, it was more important than ever to share culture with the next generations.

“[Gunggari elder] Aunty Lynette Nixon and I were sitting down and she said to me … ‘I never thought I’d live to see this day’,” he said.

“That really touched me.”


Leave a Comment