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New tool for future Indigenous story-tellers

By Leanne Coleman

A seasonal calendar detailing the “Gurruwilyun Yolŋu seasons – Gäwa – The changing seasons in east Arnhemland” has been released A seasonal calendar detailing the “Gurruwilyun Yolŋu seasons – Gäwa – The changing seasons in east Arnhemland” has been released

With the winds blowing from the East, Midawarr (end of the wet season) is time to head out and look for mud mussels and shellfish. It is also when the turtles lay their eggs and time to pick “root food” including water lily bulbs and yams.

These are the environmental cues the Gäwa community has used as part of its traditional culture for generations. Now a seasonal calendar detailing the “Gurruwilyun Yolgu seasons – Gäwa – The changing seasons in east Arnhemland” has been launched as part of a collaborative project by Charles Darwin University.

Kathy Guthadjaka (Gotha), a senior elder from Gäwa – a small family community on Elcho Island in East Arnhem Land, is passionate about not only preserving traditional knowledge, but also sharing this knowledge with the global community.

A part-time Senior Research Fellow at The Northern Institute Ms Guthadjaka said the calendar was a holistic concept.

“It is important to record traditional knowledge about what is good bush tucker at different times of the year, when certain plants fruit and what to look for when hunting,” she said. “It is also a record of ‘songlines’ and medicinal plants.

“We built the calendar as a community, working together to identify plants, write stories and take photographs,” she said. “Each category is connected and there are stories and songs for each of the photographs on the calendar.”

A transdisciplinary researcher at The Northern Institute, who also runs design company Merri Creek Productions, Trevor van Weeren has been involved with Indigenous communities in North and East Arnhem Land since the late 1980s. He has worked with Ms Guthadjaka on several language projects and was invited to travel to Gäwa to help develop the concept of the calendar along with the school children and community members.

“Gotha wanted to develop a curriculum for the school around the seasons,” Mr van Weeren said. “The calendar represents one small part of the knowledge to be passed on to the next generation at the community school.”

The calendar is being used as a basis of curriculum in the Gäwa school and has been made available to the general public. For more information about the calendar visit W: www.cdu.edu.au/the-northern-institute.