• Wiradjuri Women of the Writing Project (Supplied)
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, a Facebook group is helping to keep Wiradjuri Elders connected through virtual storytelling and keeping culture strong.
By
Bernadette Clarke

26 Mar 2020 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 26 Mar 2020 - 4:51 PM

Wiradjuri woman Anita Heiss and Gamilaraay and Tati Tati woman Leanne Sanders have connected a group of Wiradjuri Elders through a writing project.

The project aims to share the stories and identities of the Wiradjuri Elders, share the language and demonstrate the diversity of peoples from the one nation. The goal is to see writing used as teaching and learning resources for young children.

The project came to a halt with the COVID19 outbreak suspending meetings with the Elders, Author Ms Heiss and Ms Sanders. Then, the simple idea of creating a Facebook group kept the project running.

“We’ve got the group for two reasons. One is so that they can still get together online and share and not feel as isolated as they did [before]. Two, we can keep this particular project together.”

Wiradjuri woman, Aunty Loraine says that being able to continue her writing under the guidance of Ms Heiss and Ms Sanders through the group is helping her stay busy.

“I think it’s giving us something to think about, and the chaos that is happening around us is being ignored to a certain degree because you’re focusing on being Wiradjuri [and] writing stories. Even if it’s only half an hour or ten minutes, it’s a relief. It’s taking your mind completely off what’s happening around.”

Staying connected to others is something Aunty Lorraine struggled with in her earlier days growing up in between homes without technology.

“I had polio as a baby and I was sent to Sydney to the Far West Home, so I was away from my family for a lot of years off and on. So, I think to me it’s a little bit easier [now] because we have phones, we have iPads… but in my younger years we didn’t have any of that, so we had no contact at all.”

“When we came home, it was like you were going to a new family, like you were going to strangers in a way. Now with the contact that we have and the way we can do it, we’re staying connected and I think that’s the biggest thing – staying connected.”

Ms Sanders encourages the Elders to write and share photos in the group, she also talks to them almost every day as she understands they may be struggling in self-isolation.

“I think the important thing is that it’s connecting daily and that it’s checking in, in a non-formal way. It’s giving them a distraction. You turn on the news and it’s so scary and then you’ve had fires not far from here as well. They just need a positive distraction, and this is a good opportunity to get them thinking about other things.”

Ms Heiss thinks that now is a good time to read and open our minds.

“Because we’re all forced into isolation now, it actually is the perfect time to read and to learn and to grow through the wealth of literature particularly by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, I think we’ve got over 7000 first nations writers and story tellers.” 

Aunty Lorraine says it will be hard not seeing her grandchildren but she is thankful that Ms Heiss and Ms Sanders are guiding her and the other Elders through the writing project on the Facebook group.

“My son rings every day, while he’s working, I don’t see him a great deal. My grandkids… I think that’s the hardest is not being able to just call in to the grandkids or the grandkids coming out. I think that’s going to be difficult.”

“I think that’s part of the parcel of being Wiradjuri is staying connected.”

“With Anita’s guidance we can do it so they [the kids] will understand, so we do it the right way. I think it’s fantastic, I’m so pleased to be involved but I think also, we need to get stories out there. We need the kids to understand what being Wiradjuri is. We need grandkids, kids to be involved in that.”