Two Elders from the Biripi and Kamilaroi nations have shared their life-stories for a new project by the Women’s Reconciliation Network.
By
Jennifer Scherer

Source:
NITV News
11 Jul 2019 - 10:31 AM  UPDATED 11 Jul 2019 - 10:31 AM

A New South Wales women's organisation designed to promote Reconciliation has produced a pair of short-films on the lives of two Elders to preserve their stories of truth, culture and heritage.

The Women's Reconciliation Network hopes the films on the life experiences of Biripi Elder Aunty Ali Golding and Kamilaroi Elder Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo will be the first two short-videos released as part of a new collection that captures the testimony of Indigenous women around the state. 

Project coordinator Deborah Ruiz-Wall OAM said the initiative came about due to a realisation that the Aunty's combined knowledge could broaden and deepen Australian people's understanding of their history.

"It is important that people actually recognise that their (Aunty Ali and Aunty Beryl's) story has to be put and set in the background of Australian governance," Mrs Ruiz-Wall told NITV News.

"The 19th century and the footprints of that [are] still very much part of their story."

Preserving Stories

Growing up on a mission near Taree, Aunty Ali's recollections of the past in the film clearly remain raw.

"My mum was a victim of the Stolen Generation, she was mistakenly taken by an Aboriginal man who was looking after her when her Mum and Dad passed and put in Cootamundra girls home," Aunty Ali said in her video-story.

When Aunty Ali's mother passed away prematurely from a stroke, she had to escape the funeral service with her sister Judy as the mission managers and welfare officers were waiting there for them.

Fleeing from the grasp of the state, it was then that Aunty Ali's father "knew it was time for him to teach us about our Aboriginal spirituality and culture."

Aunty Ali said there were two boxes on the table: a white square box and a black square box.

"[My Dad] said: at the moment you're living in the black box where you knew peace, you knew happiness, a lot of joy for moments in your life and your spirit is free," Aunty Ali recalled.

"But while you are in this white box, I want you to never ever forget your strength as a black child, who you are as an Aboriginal girl ... and be proud. I grabbed that teaching, and I'm glad I did."

Now, Aunty Ali loves nothing more than telling Dreamtime stories that were passed down to her. 

"All of my teaching of my Dreamtime stories, my spirituality and my culture - I knew one day I had to share it," Aunty Ali told NITV News.

"It's a depth of our spirituality in us: a need to get to know our own Aboriginal spirituality so we can understand about ourselves. 

"My Dreamtime stories encourage the kids discipline, sharing, and the main number one: respect for self and for others and especially their elders." 

Structural inequality

Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo moved from Walgett to Sydney illiterate and innumerate as a 16-year-old. 

"When I was working we had very little money, you had no rights whatsoever," Aunty Beryl recalled in her story.

"You had to bath outside and go to the toilet outside, you couldn't sit at the table with them and eat."

Aunty Beryl received an education while working as a nanny for a Hungarian family, but was determined to learn how to write by copying letters from labels. 

"We had no ABC books or anything at home ... so what I did was sit at the table and get the IXL jam tin and the golden syrup tin and I would form letters."

A well-known bush-tucker chef, Aunty Beryl now uses food to teach culture.

"Food has always been a big part of my life because my Mum died when I was 14-years-old," Aunty Beryl told NITV News. "My Aunt took us [in] and taught us to cook from day one.

"Food to me is a necessity because food is life, we learnt how to cook and we learnt to survive off what we had."

Aunty Beryl has also featured in a new documentary with not-for-profit company 'Show Me The Way'.

The documentary called My Country, Your Country, The Walgett Story showcases Aunty Beryl's achievements as a small business owner and mentor in her community.

‘It's our culture’: Preserving an Aboriginal art collection in changing times
A new project has found a unique approach to conserve some of the best examples of Western Desert art.
Meet the man saving his language from extinction
In remote Western Australia, a small language and cultural centre is reviving an ancient Indigenous language.