A koala is a boy’s link to Culture

A surprising fact that a young Aboriginal boy in foster care in Perth has learned is that his people’s totem is the koala, known in Language as Boorabee. His connection to culture, family and land is unfolding, thanks to thoughtful research by Wanslea workers.

November 12, 2021
5 mins
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A nine-year-old boy in Wanslea’s foster care in Perth is a long way from his Aboriginal family’s land in northern New South Wales and his cultural roots with the Ngarabal people.

Wanting to give the boy as much information as possible about his cultural background, Wanslea Cultural Practice Leader Jeanice Krakouer and Social Worker Marcus Faulds have collaborated to construct a Cultural Book.

“We started to search via the internet and combed through records of Native Title and Land Corporations and Aboriginal language centres,” Jeanice says. “We worked out that his cultural roots reach back to NSW and were able to confirm that with the boy’s family.

“Once we were certain of where his family came from, we started looking to identify things that will be significant to the boy as he grows up. We have located an Aboriginal artist from that area and are arranging for some artworks to form part of the pack we are preparing for him.

“We are developing a story book. Inside will be the name of his mother’s country – Ngarabal – and how to pronounce the name. There will be family photos, links to cultural information that he can look into as he gets older and references to information he can find online.

“We are including anything we can locate about the traditions of the Ngarabal people. For example, they travel and meet up with other tribal groups to exchange resources and ceremonies.

“We will include a map so he can see the area where his people came from and the traditional boundaries, with places of significance marked. We will show some animals and plants from his lands. Through discussion with the boy’s grandmother, we discovered that the white cockatoo is significant to his maternal family.

“We found a dictionary of some language for the area and have included a map of the seasons and the names of the seasons.

“We are hoping to find some dream time stories and enough information to include a genogram, which diagrams known family connections.

“The boy knows we are gathering the information and is looking forward to seeing it. This will be the beginning of something exciting. The book will give him a sense of his identity. He will know who he is, exactly where he comes from, his people’s rituals and cultural beliefs and he will know his family. He will have the book to dip into as he grows up. The story will unfold for him as he journeys through his life. He won’t have to try to find information and piece it together as an adult. When he wants it, it will be there.

“He is proud to identify as Aboriginal and wants to learn more about his heritage.

“Wanslea, the boy’s carers, his grandmother and the Department of Communities all support the project,” she says.

“Wanslea wants children to remain connected to culture, family and land, through healing. To know ‘who I am’, ‘what are my customs’ and ‘who’s my mob’.

“We want our kids to be proud of who they are and where they belong. We don’t want them coming back when they’re 60 trying to find out. We feel responsible to give kids this information as early as possible.

“We want the boy to feel connected to the country, even though he’s not on it, and he can share his knowledge with his family, and when he has children one day.”