Our Languages Matter – Staff NAIDOC Exhibition in Darwin 7th July 2017

On Friday 7th July 2017, Relationships Australia Northern Territory Darwin Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisers (AICAs) – Kathy, Eddie, Valarie, Jeff & Ruth – created an exhibition entitled Our Languages Matter for Darwin staff in the Barramundi Room to mark NAIDOC week.

This exhibition allowed the AICAs to share different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories and music, as well as their culture with staff members.

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Our Languages Matter featured Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island artefacts including baskets woven from Pandanus from Arnhem land.

These baskets are made when young pandanus leaves are harvested and sliced into fine strips. This is followed by a colouring process, in which the strips are placed in drums of bush dyes, roots and leaves from different plants sourced in the area. Dye is extracted through bashing and crushing techniques, and then added to the water with the pandanus to create vivid colour. After dying, the strips must hang and dried out for at least three to four hours before preparing it to start the weaving process.  These strips are then woven into intricate baskets and mats or rolled into ropes for other designs.

Dilli bags are prepared slightly differently however.  Vines from Banyan trees are gathered and rolled into long thin threads and woven to make the bags. These bags would have been used to carry items for everyday use or for long journeys depending on the size. Sometimes the same colouring as baskets is used.

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Coral and turtles, which represented Torres Strait culture, were also featured. The Torres Strait Islands have the world’s largest population of green, hawksbill and flatback turtles.

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Murray Island is a small island, to the east of the Torres Strait, just north of the Great Barrier Reef and is where Eddie Mabo was born.

The contribution of Eddie Mabo in campaigning for Indigenous land rights and for his role in a landmark decision of the High Court of Australia which overturned the legal doctrine of terra nullius (“nobody’s land”) which characterised Australian law with regard to land and title was also recognised.

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The exhibition also featured information about The Barunga Statement. This statement of national Aboriginal political objectives issued to the federal government in June 1988. Written on bark and presented to Prime Minister RJL Hawke at that year’s Barunga festival, it called for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination, and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights.

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Another display featured spears from the Tiwi Islands. These spears were designed for close combat and would be thrusted into the enemy and this twisted and pulled out. Female spears are smooth on one side and serrated on the other. The male spears are serrated on both sides. Thankfully, these days, the spears are used for art.

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Relationships Australia NT staff who visited the exhibition heard a mix of both traditional and contemporary Aboriginal music.

The exhibition also featured a collection of books including Stan Grant’s book, Talking to my Country, a powerful and personal meditation on race, culture and national identity.  Another book on display was Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. This book gives readers an understanding of why the Aboriginal people of Arnhem Land face the greatest crisis in health and education since European contact.

A book on the history of the Kahlin Compound in Darwin and the experiences of the children who grew up there was also on display

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Feedback from the staff was overwhelmingly positive with the majority of visitors saying how much they enjoyed it and how sorry they were that the exhibition was on display for such a short time.

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