• Nyikina-Mangala woman, Holy Watson (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A local initiative in Western Australia is taking young Indigenous people back to the bush to protect identity and boost self-esteem, providing an example of ‘on-country’ cultural preservation that other communities can follow.
Ella Archibald-Binge

30 Oct 2015 - 2:30 PM  UPDATED 30 Oct 2015 - 2:56 PM

For Holly Watson, there's no better feeling than being out bush.

“When you’re out bush, desert or anywhere, you’re free – you can set your mind free,” says Ms Watson.

The Nyikina-Mangala woman has spent plenty of time on country in recent years - thanks to the Yiriman Project.

As an initiative of four language groups in the Kimberley in Western Australia, the project sees young people spend two weeks in the bush learning culture from their elders.

Merle Carter, chairwoman of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre, says elders started the project out of concern for young people battling with substance abuse, self-harm and loss of cultural identity.

“When you’re out bush, desert or anywhere, you’re free – you can set your mind free."

“They were concerned about all the young people losing their language and culture,” Ms Carter says.

“It’s on-country cultural practice… teaching the young ones about bush medicine and bush tucker, and building a story within the young people.”

For Ms Watson, the trips are also a welcome escape from the issues plaguing her community.

“In town, you hear bad news… this kid passed away, this kid [died by ] suicide,” Ms Watson says.

“These days, people got problems – relationship problems, grog problems, drug problems.

“In the bush, there’s no shop, no bank, no grog shop… you got no stress.”

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Elders at Mutitjulu – a community at the base of Uluru – heard about the Yiriman Project during a trip to the Kimberley last year.

They’re now working to start their own version of the project, exchanging knowledge and culture with Kimberley elders. 

Speaking through a translator, Mutitjulu elder Esther Teamay told NITV she hopes the trips to country would leave a lasting imprint on young people in her community.

“I hope that when they come back… that they feel happy about it, that they will be inspired to keep learning more and then be able to pass it on themselves,” says Ms Teamay.


Watch NITV News on Monday 2 November at 5.30pm and 11pm for the full story.