Walking Together to the Library

Day 4 – Tuesday 30 May, 2017

Prior to our Top End trip and the planned NTLS Round Table event, Anja Tait, assistant director of libraries and her NTLS team had Involved Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir and I in a series of teleconferences to plan the Round Tables we were to deliver in Darwin and Alice Springs. We came up with a shared focus “walking together with Aboriginal families back to the library.”

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The image of feet came up a lot in our conversations and slideshows about our library and community project work as we learn to work and walk together with Aboriginal elders and communities. There is an image of feet going in all directions as we try and make connections with community and learn about cultural protocols, sometimes treading on and over each other’s feet, then there are moments in time, perhaps after a number of years and gaining the trust of communities, that we begin to walk and learn together, side by side. Feet are such a strong metaphor for our community work as the anatomy of our feet are the same but we walk differently and it is the respect along the path that is important.

Participants in the Round Table included a group of NTLS directors, managers, academics from Charles Darwin University, Menzies School of Public Health, a senior Elder, researcher and founder of the Yalu Marŋgithinyaraw Centre- Elaine Ḻäwurrpa.

It was huge surprise and privilege to have Elaine at the Round Table. Elaine’s name came up many times chatting with the Yalu clan in Guliwin’ku because it was Elaine who had founded Yalu nearly 20 years before. Elaine is one of a number of incredibly strong, highly qualified, intelligent Yolngu Elders who has been working passionately for many decades to create positive opportunities for their clan. She is particularly passionate about improving education pathways for Yolŋu and wants to see Yolŋu people achieving at the highest levels of education. Elaine has worked with Charles Darwin University and Menzies School of Health, supervising and guiding many non-Indigenous researchers to work with Yolŋu in ways that are ethical, mutually beneficial, and enable non-Indigenous and Yolŋu to understand each other’s knowledge.

Aunty Fay and I delivered our PowerPoint presentation, “Community -Led Library Programs on Country ” starting with a snippet from each of our own life stories. Fay shared the story of her background in nursing, teaching, study in linguistics and work at the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation of Languages where she is working to reawaken ( “a sleeping” ) Boon Wurrung; the traditional language and culture on her mother’s side.

I spoke about how I came to library outreach work from a background in theatre- making (animateuring) , arts / narrative therapy (working with people to express ‘untold’ or ‘silenced stories’) and focusing on the strengths of communities.

Fay and I reflected on how we met and our 5- year friendship and working partnership which is driven by a shared passion for connecting children and families to culture. Fay spoke about her Boon Wurrung culture and I reflected on my own spiritual culture and practice that was established 22 years ago within an Advaita Vedanta spiritual community of practice (which combines aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism). An experience that culminated in an intensive period of cultural practice as a renunciate for three years on a remote island in one of our hermitages in Fiji nearly thirteen years ago. I can look back now and see many parallels between Aboriginal culture and other traditional cultural and sacred practices, particularly traditions that foster respect for Elders and cultural teachers.

In our presentation we spoke about our shared partnership goal with the Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne which aims to strengthen the cultural, plant, language and emergent literacy of Koori children and families as well as foster an Aboriginal community-led approach. Together we believe in supporting a child’s development by inviting Aboriginal Elders and educators to share their traditional knowledge with children and involve extended kinship community; siblings, carers and grandparents in the child’s learning and development. We envision the delivery of a bilingual early years’  library and bilingual programs outside (in the bush) on Country, and facilitating programs that celebrates a 68,000 year old Indigenous pedagogy, (for Aboriginal peoples). We support the notion that Country is their library and appropriate ‘living’ classroom for Koori kids to learn traditional language and gather cultural knowledge.

Anja Tait, the Assistant Directir of NT library services shared an overview of the NT libraries and of how libraries are places of universal access that provide unique services, programs and facilities to community members from birth to old age.

There are 32 library services in NT, 11 municipal library services and 21 remote library services. She offered a powerful example of how NTLS partnered with IATSIS to produce a digital exhibition “Right wrongs “. Please have a look at this link, http://www.abc.net.au/rightwrongs/

This project is a great example of the role libraries can play showcasing important narratives of making the “hidden” or “untold” stories of our Nation visible.
Libraries are active in the sphere of International Development. There are Libraries without Borders programs working in places of conflict (like Doctors without Borders)  where library programs are connected to the United Nations IFLA and sustainable development.

Another inspiring NTLS remote Community library outreach project was ‘Family reading mentors’; a project that acknowledged that people felt most comfortable with family so they trained up Aboriginal library workers to go into community to support parents to read and communicate with children. The workers were selected by Elders who identified people in community of people who could be reading mentors and the selected mentors felt so proud of what they were doing. They knew they had an important role to play in supporting their kids to develop the literacy skills necessary to get them through school simply by focusing on having conversations around books and taking the pressure off parents to having to know English. Instead, they could read the pictures and have conversations about what they see and know with their children.


I have included an amazing photo we took at Maningrida airport of ants building a nest. An army of ants would literally hold together a bunch of leaves while their ant colleagues or comrades wove a fine web of sticky film to keep the leaves together, until an igloo of web kept their community snug and protected from the elements. This is the best example of culturally safe practice and also of collaboration and team work I have ever witnessed! 😊🍃