• The creation stories come from Nyikina, Gija, Bangerang and Jaara communities. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Creation stories made with cultural custodians and children from four communities have been released as bilingual, interactive i-books, with the hope they’ll one day be part of the school curriculum.
Rachael Hocking

13 Dec 2020 - 8:50 AM  UPDATED 13 Dec 2020 - 8:50 AM

The Murray River splits three states in the south-east of the country and tells many stories from many clans and tribes: to the Bangerang in north-eastern Victoria it’s called Dunggula.

The river is known as a lifeline to many, but in the Bangerang creation story it wasn’t always so: a sandy desert plain existed in its place. 

It's a story which goes back millennia, and now makes up one of four new i-books exploring the origins of First Nations' cultural practices, totems, and Country. 

The creation stories they tell come from Nyikina, Gija, Bangerang and Jaara communities and were launched last week through the SharingStories Foundation.

Three of the stories are bilingual in the story’s native tongue and all come with digital resources which immerse its listeners in the culture and community of each yarn, including a Welcome to Country and interactive map.

Bangerang students working on Dunggula:The Murray River

Narungga and Trawoolaway man Daen Sansbury-Smith has worked with SharingStories for the past few years as its Victorian Program Manager. He says their aim is to introduce the i-books into the school curriculum and have them translated into more First Nations languages.

“I feel like a lot of information on the people lives in the language,” he told NITV News.

“A lot of people wouldn't know that a lot of place names all around Australia are based of Aboriginal language, and if you learn what that name means, you learn what that place was and is, and what means to the people.

“So, to put a whole story back in its language of origin is amazing. It's like enormous. It's like putting back together this piece of the puzzle and reviving and continuing and expanding and growing on the cultural identity of the people.”

The creation stories are shared by knowledge holders in each community, but Mr Sansbury-Smith says young children and teenagers also had a hand in the books’ development.

“Other than the cultural custodians, they're like the bosses, they're the ones who throw all the ideas out there,” he said.

“The kids do all the artworks, they do the sound design and they run around with audio equipment and make sounds and jump and scream and act.”

“And then we put it together with the kids and the cultural custodians guiding that process to make sure that the representation is appropriate.”

Senior Nyikina Cultural Custodian Annie Nayina Milgin passing on the teachings of Woonyoomboo on Nyikina Country

The project took ten years of travelling and consulting with communities, something Mr Sansbury-Smith says was important in order for Traditional Owners to maintain ownership of their stories.

“I think we all as Aboriginal people have experience with going through archives or documents where, for example, someone would sit with an old person and point at a tree and their question is, ‘what's that River Red Gum translate to?’, and they say ‘tree’. So they write down the word for tree and they get it wrong,” he said.

“And if you don't ask that question twice from multiple different angles and questions, and you don't consult correctly, you end up producing and incorrectly informing people of the culture and the stories.

“And that's something that we want to make sure that we are absolutely doing 100 per cent correct.”

The latest four i-books represent the first series published by SharingStories, with plans already underway for a 2021 release of stories from other mobs.

First Nations bedtime stories connecting Elders and children
Families are being encouraged to listen to five different First Nations bedtime stories next week, as part of a challenge aimed at sharing Elders’ knowledge with the next generation.