• Seven Sisters Amata Senior Girls in the Inma session. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
A collaborative youth arts project in South Australia is connecting Indigenous kids to traditional culture in the APY Lands and creating a valuable digital learning resource in the process.
Eliza Berlage

15 Jul 2019 - 10:49 PM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2019 - 10:49 PM

Thirty children from Amata, Pukatja, and Mimili communities have taken an eight-day journey tracking the Seven Sisters Songline across the APY lands as part of a project to create a digital resource for Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages.

The Tjitjiku Tjukurpa, or The Children's Dreaming Project, has taken the group from Whyalla through to Amata to the sacred Walinynga (Cave Hill) site in Central Australia. 

Along the way, stops were made for the kids to learn Inma – ceremonial song and dance -that accompanies the Tjukurpa - dreaming stories - and Walka - body painted designs - from significant cultural custodians.

The excursion will be turned into a digital resource for schools to learn about Aboriginal culture and language and forms the first part of a four-stage collaborative partnership between South Australian youth arts centre, Carclew, and Lee-Ann Buckskin & Associates.

Ms Buckskin, a Narungga, Kaurna, Wirangu, Wotjobaluk woman, told NITV News that Elders don’t want children learning about their culture second-hand.

“Every little nuance of the way in which the body interacts with culture and language happens on the ground,” Ms Buckskin said. “You won’t get that from opening a book

“You can’t get the nuances of the rawness of Elders performing in front of you, Elders teaching you on the ground, the stamping of the feet, the way particular dance moves are done.”

The question for Ms Buckskin was how young people could learn the cultural significance of acquiring knowledge. She said following a Songline across Country seemed like a tangible and memorable way for APY senior cultural bosses to pass on knowledge and ceremonial stories to young people.

Additionally, the natural hierarchy in Songlines made it easier for those facilitating the project to make it age-appropriate as well as allowing for ceremonial performance.

Describing a Songline, Ms Buckskin said “imagine this country with a big spiders web over it.” 

“What we’ve got is this spiders web that covers the country and each tribal group within their boundaries, is a chain to part of a bigger story.”

The Seven Sisters Songline, which covers more than half of the continent from deep in the Central Desert out to the west coast, was chosen because “it is an enormous story that not one group has authority over”.

In the Dreaming story of the Seven sisters they are pursued by a man who has lustful ideas around women.

“What it is teaching is the relationship between men and women, how to be virtuous, how not to give too much away, how women protect each other, the stages of becoming a woman, and a man having desires where he forgets himself,” Ms Buckskin said.

While it is “a female lore story” said Ms Buckskin, ultimately it is about following rules and “not just taking what you want.”

Buckskin said the effects of colonisation and the pressures of modern life have eroded the practice and preservation of traditional culture and it is now at crisis point.

The project acts like a circuit breaker, she said - creating time and opportunity for tribal groups to gather together to keep stories alive.

“We know that when we travel and if we’ve got the privilege of travelling, how we can pick up the nuances of language and some of the pathways of our brain are wired to do that,” Ms Buckskin said.

“It’s wonderful to share this with Anangu community, to see the way senior cultural bosses transfer that knowledge and doing it in a practical way is the way it is done.”

The next stage of the project will see the children participate in community-specific workshops to devise contemporary re-imaginings of the Seven Sisters Dreaming story.

Zaachariaha Fielding of Electric Fields will work with children from his community of Mimili to create songs; Amata children will focus on turning it into dance with Pitjantjatjara dancer & youth ambassador Tapaya Edwards; while children from Pukatja will work with renowned animator Jonathan Daw to transform the story into a claymation.

At the end of the year, the four projects will be brought together to be presented in a live public performance.

To share Tjitjiku Tjukurpa with a wider audience into the future, the Project outcomes will also be produced into an educational and interactive website that teachers can use in the classroom.

“This project is about being more active and more engaging in planting the seeds in children to be able to do this themselves in the future,” Ms Buckskin said.

“People want to be part of a sense of belonging to something. When people are born here they have a heritage – yes, it is colonial but it is steeped in thousands of years of culture.”

–  Tjitjiku Tjukurpa is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia through the Indigenous Languages and Arts Program.

'Epic' artwork by APY Lands sisters recognised with prestigious award
A collaborative artwork from a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia has won the 35th NATSIAAs People’s Choice Award.