• "I slip our culture into our everyday lives so they easily absorb it," says mother of eight, Justice Nelson. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
She might be surrounded by concrete and buildings in Melbourne, but Justice Nelson, 38, has found a way to blend her traditional Indigenous culture with a modern lifestyle to remain true to herself and her people.
By
Justice Nelson, Presented by
Kimberly Gillan

7 Jul 2016 - 10:49 AM  UPDATED 7 Jul 2016 - 4:09 PM

"Growing up on country in Central Victoria as part of the Jaara people, I was always in my dad Brien Nelson Snr's shadow and learning everything I could about our culture.

He's a very selfless person and a true leader, running farms[in Victoria and NSW] where he employed the entire local Indigenous population and ran multi-million dollar Indigenous tourism programs. We would talk most days and on Saturdays he would take me out on country to share his knowledge.

About 12 years ago when my eldest kids were little, I decided to move to Melbourne. Growing up in a country town where we were the only Indigenous family, I was subjected to a lot of prejudice and racism. I didn't want my kids to have the same experience – I wanted them to hold their heads high and be proud of their culture, and I thought moving to the city might expose them to a wider world and more opportunities.

Coming from the bush setting to a fast-paced city lifestyle was really difficult. I had moments where I just wanted to run home. I wasn't so much missing people – I was missing my country. I would feel flat and have to go back every fortnight to revive and rejuvenate by visiting significant sites, caring for country and singing traditional songs.

I had four kids in school and it took a lot of adjusting to a school where Indigenous history and culture were not really celebrated. One day my son came home and asked, 'How come they are saying that we used to poison our waterholes?' I said, 'Son is that anything your grandfather or I have taught you? Don't you listen to other people telling you what your culture is, because you know your culture'. It broke my heart to see my kids withdrawing and no longer being loud and proud of who they were and I realised I had to work even harder to bring our culture into our urban lifestyle.

I have eight children now, ranging from one to 21 years old, and there is always a lot of traditional practice in our house. I slip our culture into our everyday lives so they easily absorb it. I've made them traditional toys like carved sticks with emu feathers at the end and I sing children's song in dja dja wurrung language. We will often light a fire and sit around to share stories, and when we walk around local parklands, I share knowledge and get them to identify native plants.

In 2006, Dad publicly announced me as his successor as an elder of the Jaara people. It was very humbling to know he had the confidence and trust to bestow such an honour on me. Now, not only do I have a responsibility for raising my own eight kids as proud custodians of our culture, but I have to spread cultural awareness around the wider community.

I've done a lot of work in Indigenous health, providing cross-cultural training, education and awareness. I also spent five years working with Monash University linguistics professors to research and reclaim our language, then create a database. I have now handed on that responsibility to a young Jaara man – we need to pass on the language and the songs and the dances because once it's gone, it's gone.

Dad is now 75 and unfortunately has advanced Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's but his influence and legacy lives on throughout our community.

Now I run Tiaanii Events, an events and entertainment business. We try to use our position in the music industry to open up opportunities for Indigenous recording artists, businesses and community members. Like Dad, I have a passion for building strong and resilient youth so I try to use my position of leadership to pass on opportunities to our communities.

Dad and I used to run a tourism business where we did workshops, weaving and storytelling with local Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kids. I want to get that back up and running again soon.

In this modern environment, with televisions and iPhones and other distractions, it's easier to go with the flow than to stand as a minority. But it's so important for us to remember our culture – you don't have the same pride or empowerment within yourself if you don't stick by your culture.

A lot of Australians have stereotypical views and think of Aboriginals as coming from the central desert. But there's Aboriginal culture happening every day in the heart of Melbourne – you just have to look for it."

Justice Nelson helped curate Museum Victoria's Bunjilaka exhibition.

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