Many women and their families in remote Australian regions experience inequality& fear, culminating in continued poor health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers, newborns and children. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2014 babies born to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mothers were almost twice as likely to be of low birth weight (less than 2500 grams) than those born to non-Indigenous mothers. Low birth weight can increase the risk of a child developing often preventable health problems throughout their lives.
Outreach by strong Aboriginal women and midwives into local schools is a community-based approach that YFER takes to give future parents information to make smarter and healthier choices along their journey to parenthood.
Since mid 2000s,COL has supported traditional learning as an important part of educating youth about this intrinsic part of life.This is crucial in meeting the absolute requirement of offering localised, respectful, cultural and language relevant information and storytelling.
Culture is recycled through the passing of knowledge through the generations.
The knowledge these women bring and the respect they draw from the young Indigenous girls and non-Indigenous girls is commendable and irreplaceable.These activities have created an opportunity and a nurturing, safe, environment over the years for the elder women to share their stories and have their knowledgeable voices heard.
In October this year, Deb and Tracy were joined again by many locals to run the COL cross-cultural day. This unique and special event is only made possible by the incredible commitment and support of local agencies. A group bigger than ever before of nearly 70 gatheredat the town lagoon for the main cultural part of the day. The morning was spent with the girls in the classroom at Nhulunbuy Residential College where they had COL presented by local remote midwife Vivienne Latham and community nurse Tracy Spillman mentored by Deb. After giving birth (COL role play of course!) the group were joined by the animated and passionate Yirrkala Traditional owner Eunice Yunipingu who spoke of the traditional ways of birth and about what the girls were to experience during ceremony later that day.
The group gathered in a stunning natural location near the town lagoon where we seem to have taken over in the past years as the women’s’ business area! Here the group were instructed on the preparation needed to conduct ceremony and the girls were able to participate in collecting and preparing the necessary items from the bush.
One excited girl commented “ this is so cool – normally when we do anything outside school we just sit and watch, but this is great because we can actually participate and learn from the old ladies”
After a small snack, the students, young mothers, babies, children, grandmothers and support staff all watched and listened while the Elders explained the various elements of women’s ceremony in local Yolgnu Mata language and English, whilst Keisha (our young mother) and Aleisha (baby) were led through ceremony in front of the group.
Its always so inspiring to see the passion and commitment of the women to educating about these traditional elements and to see their connection to the land and their culture.
The ladies ideally want these young people to carry on their practices and to share their stories to contribute to a more connected, reconciled, parenting community in Gove. This is one small way to help keep their cultural stories alive as we have seen them disappear in many other parts of Australia.
Following the ceremony the group travelled back to school for a delicious lunch together and then relaxed in the classroom where the group debriefed and the COL program was completed.
The girls then were given a remarkable opportunity to spend time asking Keisha along with her beautiful freshly smokedsleeping baby Aleisha and Grandmother Rita,questions about being a teenage mother. Spontaneous, open, honest dialogue is a fantastic way for young women to understand the true impact of becoming a parent at a young age.
Yfer would like to thank all those individuals and organisations that assisted in bringing this event together including, Strong Women worker – Diplinga Marika, Yirrkala women - Eunice Yunipingu, Rita Gondara, Faye Yunipingu, NT Dept. Health staff, Nhulunbuy High School staff, STARS, FAFT Yirrkala & Gunyungara &Miwatj
WE look forward to another wonderful event again next year.