I am aware that I may walk into trouble with this post. I am still going to write it, though. I mightn’t say what I want very well, but I’m going to try.
It’s NAIDOC week (yep – I know. Here comes the trouble…) and I want to add my voice to many others talking about it. I am not Aboriginal, or a Torres Strait Islander. I am white – very white. But I teach a lot of Aboriginal kids, and work with Aboriginal Education Officers. I am inspired by Aboriginal musicians and dancers I meet in schools. I try to learn from them, and respect what I learn. I think you could say that I know a little bit about Aboriginal culture, and realise I only know a little bit (better than knowing a little bit and thinking you know a lot).
I do know a lot about teaching music, though, and the power of it.
I have had a version of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ written for me by a Sydney musician and elder. I love that he’s done this, and taught me the words, and allowed me to hand on this song to others. There’s a fabulous backing track that has been made. And, respectfully, I have taught this song to a number of kids now. The teaching children part of this process has been a doddle. They love it. They love to sing in any different language – but for many kids, especially if they are Aboriginal (or from the Torres Strait), this is especially significant. They swell with pride. I am not exaggerating one bit – I see it. Their chests fill, and they raise their heads, and they own this version of the song. And then they sing it outside the music room – to their reading teacher, or their friends, or their relatives.
It’s all the other stuff that has been really hard. One teacher (who is white) told me she wouldn’t sing this ‘monkey language’ (I was gobsmacked. I am not often speechless. This floored me.). Another teacher (who is Aboriginal) told me what I was doing was tokenistic, and wrong. I’ve been called an interfering white #$%@. I’ve been told that it’s the ‘wrong’ language. And then I see white children and non-white children singing this song together, and keep coming back to that.
Here’s my point I’m trying to make…. Isn’t the preservation of any Aboriginal language worth doing? Isn’t giving Aboriginal kids (who sometimes don’t have much to be proud about) something to be proud about a good thing? Isn’t singing together important? Isn’t sharing culture a way to bridge gaps between people?
I’m not an expert on reconciliation. I’m certainly not an expert on Aboriginal and Torres Strait music or culture. But I do see a change in children as they sing this song. They are proud. And happy. And love to sing it. All children. I understand that I, as a whitey, need to be culturally sensitive. And I am trying my very best. And I know I won’t please everyone. But I wish these people who are very quick to criticise could see the pride that I see in these singing children. Because, for me, that’s what is most important.
Thank you to Matt, for giving me the words to teach.