On Country – an all-women’s Aboriginal experience

Written by Zilla Gordon. Posted in Featured News, News, Timeline

Our First Nations peoples have lived and thrived on the land of Australia for thousands of generations, passing down traditional practices, words, knowledge and culture for tens of thousands of years. With the colonisation of Australia, some of this knowledge and skill has been lost to time, but some has survived to the present day, where our Aboriginal people continue on the sacred traditions as a way to connect with the land, pass down the knowledge to future generations, and to ensure the survival and flourishing of our communities.

On 31 July 2019, a group of eight St Mary’s girls piled onto a small bus, along with Miss Raward, Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Perspectives Officer, and Traci-Jean Berresford, College Receptionist (and mum to one of the girls), ready for a long but incredible day. First off, we headed north-east of Hobart, where we were met by Sharnie Read, a Tasmanian Aboriginal woman and mum to a St Mary’s Junior School girl, to gather on the riverbank and understand more about ochre, specifically pulawini, ‘red ochre’. Using sticks found on the nearby shoreline, we collected some ochre by digging it out and scraping it into bags. We learnt that, when mixed with wallaby blood and belly fat, the ochre becomes a ‘paint’, waterproof and sun-blocking (but also skin-staining!). After collecting the ochre, we all loaded back onto the bus, where we travelled over 40 minutes to Orford.

With the sun on our faces and wind freezing our fingers, we made our way down to the beach, where we were shown by Sharnie how to find marieener shells – the shells traditionally used in Tasmanian Aboriginal shell necklaces. Sparkling with an emerald sheen, the shells are distinctive; however, they are only about the length of a fingernail. So, down we crouched, some of us barefoot, others lying on our stomachs, a few sitting on the relatively dry rocks, and a couple of us wading into the water and losing feeling in our toes. After a while, we all got the hang of it. Everyone found some shells each, and Bellah even found a king marieener! We spent a few hours on the rocks, digging and searching. After freezing off all of our fingers and toes, we put our shoes and trackies back on, and we went to the park, where we ate lunch and reflected on what it means to be an Aboriginal woman.

This experience was huge for many of us, with it being the first of its kind that most of us had participated in. Connecting with each other, being on country, and bonding as Aboriginal young women was amazing. We discussed what our heritage meant to us, and how being an Aboriginal woman affects our everyday lives. All in all, it was an opportunity that we all greatly appreciate and are forever grateful for, no matter how cold it was. Our culture is kept alive through our participation in these traditional practices as present-day Aboriginal women, and by experiencing a day such as this one, our culture has been passed on. We can only hope that our children and grandchildren will be just as proud of their Aboriginal heritage, and that the traditional practices of our people are never forgotten.

By Caitlin Marr
(Year 9)

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