Working from the bottom Up!

The Arnam Liber Living Heritage Blog pages have been set up as a platform to share my cultural Literacies and community outreach project work and experiences as a recipient of the State Library of Victoria’s 2017 Margery C Ramsay Scholarship. My project is titled, Strengthening the cultural identity of communities through libraries.

As a community development outreach worker I adopt a “bottom up” approach working and walking together with local services, Public Gardens, Aboriginal Elders, families and communities ‘on the ground’ to develop culturally meaningful programs and events that strengthen the cultural identity of Koori children, families and extended kinship community. Together we co-create immersive opportunities for Aboriginal children and families to experience cultural knowledge, stories and traditional language so that they grow up strong with the knowledge of who they are and the unique cultural heritage they have come from.

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(Above: CEO SLV Kate Torney, Sarah Bingle and Maxine Mackew)

Below is a link to my Scholarship Award presentation at the State Library of Victoria and my acceptance speech and copied below for easy reference.

2017 Margery C Ramsay Scholarship Acceptance Speech:
“Thank you, Maxine and the State Library Board for selecting my proposal Strengthening the Cultural Identity of Communities through Libraries. I would like to thank Margery Ramsay’s family and Shirley for dedicating this scholarship to her life and the personal development of library workers. I am very grateful for this opportunity.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we gather on today, the Kulin Nation and the Boon Wurrung Peoples on whose lands our library program is based. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future.

I personally would like to pay my respects to Boon Wurrung Elder Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, who is with us today and who has walked together with me over the last 5 years, guiding the development of our bilingual koori kids playgroup programs. Most importantly, entrusting me to advocate for the rights of our koori families to participate in programs that preserve their cultural heritage; particularly intangible cultural heritage which is passed on orally, such as traditional language, knowledge and stories.
I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge Casey-Cardinia Libraries’ and our facilitating partner Windermere’s Communities for Children Project; without whose funding support, culturally responsive community engagement programs like Library Has Legs would not be possible.
I share the honour of this day with Aunty Fay, my partner, family, friends and colleagues who have joined me today and I dedicate this scholarship to our koori kids who delight us each week as we watch them grow stronger learning about their Aboriginal culture, and singing loud and proud as they learn Boon Wurrung language words; a language which has been sleeping for 200 years.
Four years ago when I began my library outreach role I spent time with local koori families who said they didn’t know much about their Aboriginal heritage or the traditional lands their families were from and they wanted their children to learn about their culture and learn outside on country, rather than in formal settings.
I was reminded me of a powerful statement I heard once by an Aboriginal rights advocate who said, “Country is our library.”
Not far from Cranbourne Library we have a hidden gem on our doorstep, the Royal Botanic Gardens Cranbourne; an exquisite Indigenous garden that reflects and celebrates Country; with the Red Desert Centre at the heart of the Garden.
In 2014 after extensive community consultation, funding success and cultural guidance from Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, the Royal Botanic Gardens, together with the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages and Casey-Cardinia Libraries- Library has Legs Project established a playgroup for koori families called the Balee Koolin Bubup Bush Playgroup. The playgroup has been going strong for 3 years now.
Our shared partnership goal is literacy; supporting the emergent literacy development, as well as plant literacy, cultural and traditional language development of Koori children, families and extended kinship community.
The bush playgroup fosters a ‘sense of ‘belonging’ which supports the emotional and spiritual attachment Aboriginal people have to the land. Through the creation of a ‘place based’ Indigenous early years program, our families feel a sense of hope as they have the opportunity to enter into dialogue with Elders, receive the transmission of traditional language and stories. Each term we celebrate and share our learnings on Country with the community, back at Cranbourne Library.
For the record I am not a librarian, I graduated 20 years ago (down the road) at the Victorian College of The Arts where I studied community arts development as an ‘Animateur’ – theatre maker. Often people would ask what an Animateur does… one definition sums it up for me – “working together with communities to animate their stories and strengths.”
For our Aboriginal communities their strength lies in their culture – Aboriginal culture is the protective force that ‘grows up’ children and strengthens families and communities. The hard part is realizing that over the last 230 years Australia’s assimilative social policies nearly destroyed those strengths – pushing them underground.
Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to suffer the trauma and consequence of these policies. Policies that enforced the removals of children, the fracturing of families, the relocation of communities from traditional lands, the restriction of personal freedoms, cultural and spiritual practices and speaking language.
Aboriginal Elders and communities want the cultural impact – the significant loss of language and connection to culture and country recognized and redressed.
Victorian Libraries can play a significant key role in supporting our Koori communities to heal and redress past injustices by learning and walking together with Traditional Owners, Elders, cultural educators and language specialists to co-design culturally safe and meaningful programs for koori children, carers and families to come together to revitalise their culture.
Libraries can begin to move beyond their four walls to bring their Indigenous resources and collections out in the community where our koori families go or out on Country –- the 38,000 year old classroom for our First Peoples.
As library workers the journey of reconciliation involves acknowledging the injustices that our First Peoples endured since European settlement and committing to our own life-long learning journey to re-learn both sides of Australia’s historical narrative so that we can support our koori communities to heal and strengthen their cultural identity to ensure the next generation of koori kids grow up strong with the knowledge of who they are and the unique cultural heritage they come from.
Thank you everyone for coming today and sharing this important day with me.”