It was pretty rare to see Aboriginal kids at my school, in fact I was one of two students. But it was even rarer to learn about Aboriginal history at my school or any other for that matter. It wasn’t until I had finished university and became an AIME mentor that I started to learn more about Aboriginal history and how my story fits into that.
When I was at school, Australian history started with Abel Tasman in 1642 and Captain Cook in 1770. From our text books these were the “civilised” people who “found” our country – although I always wondered how something could be found if it wasn’t technically “lost” in the first place.
We didn’t learn about the 50,000 years of Indigenous civilisation that had existed prior to the discovery of Australia. Our people lived within a civilisation that included religion, rituals and hierarchy; held the concept of family above all else; engaged in trade; were using sustainable practices before the sustainability concept was invented; and made social and economic decisions that impacted themselves and their communities. However, the use of the term civilisation in relation to Aboriginal Australia, pre European settlement, seems to be at odds with a civilised education.
But why is this history so important? It shows us where we’ve come from and how it has shaped who we are. To look back at history is to gain an empathy for those people; understand why they chose to start a certain path that we now follow. If empathy equals understanding, Aboriginal history has been sadly lacking in our schools, because the lack of empathy and understanding of Aboriginal Australia and its history is also sadly lacking.
Since beginning my mentoring journey with AIME last year, I have learnt about some of the most influential historical people and events through the program sessions and most importantly I’ve learnt about our history, my history, through the mentees in the program.
As a volunteer for AIME, we mentor Indigenous students and are expected to impart some of our knowledge to our mentees. But it has been a two way street. As a mentor I have learnt more about myself, and the shared culture and history that is the true Australian story. For my fellow mentors who are non-Indigenous, they have gained an understanding of Aboriginal culture and the problems faced by Aboriginal Australia.
Programs and organisations such as AIME are making history right now by changing the way non-Indigenous Australians view Aboriginals and our history. They know the best way to ensure our history is not only included in the school curriculum but is actually taught with commitment and understanding is to ‘not make history a mystery‘ and acknowlege the shared history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
This year during National Reconciliation Week, Reconciliation Australia invites all Australians to
learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge and help us grow as a nation.
Tahlia is a descendant of the Dunghutti people from Kempsey in NSW. She identifies as an Aboriginal person and is known as an Aboriginal person within the Dunghutti community in Kempsey, the Wiradjuri community of Bathurst where my mother was born, the Brisbane area where I attended University and the Canberra area where I now live and work.