Posted by Julia Goonan
on 25 March 2020
During the Lasallian Student Leader Seminar in January, the Lasallian Volunteers participated in an intimate experience with Karen Isaacs, Aboriginal Coordinator at Oakhill College. A few hours with Karen brought a wealth of knowledge to the volunteers that are heading to several different communities across the district, some Indigenous and some not, but every volunteer learned of the Aboriginal culture together.
Karen walked the group of volunteers down to Collaroy Beach, stopping at certain plants and trees and teaching them of their meaning and use.
The grass tree a seemingly spikey plant whose leaves are abundant, tall and strong. Karen told us that the grass tree leaves are woven into baskets and when you pull out the leaf from its root, it can be a source of water. The very spikey centre of the plant can be made into bread when soaked for days. A natural source of bread, she compared the way non-Indigenous colonisers brought wheat to make bread, even when there is a natural source of bread grown on the earth that doesn't use nearly as much water and energy to process.
The Dianella tree - beautiful purple berries the size of a pea that she popped into her mouth as soon as she found the plant. It was eye-opening for the volunteers to watch, the comfort and trust in the plant, a relationship only the Indigenous people of the land would have. Karen explained the real name of the plant is the 'Child minder'. Aboriginal parents would tell their children to go search for this plant in times of need as the leaves can be used as whistles, the berries can be a source of moisture in the mouth, and the leaves protect from snakes.
The paperbark tree - an Australian classic that most Australians wouldn't realise can be used as medical treatment for wounds. The bark flakes off the tree with a white dust falling onto your skin, can be used as an antiseptic when rubbed into a wound. The leaves on the paperbark can also be used as an antiseptic, and when the centre of the tree is sliced with an axe can be a reliable source of water when you're alone in the desert.
The Firestarter - with dark cylinder-shaped bark, the little rivets in the cylinder can be filled with kangaroo droppings, a natural source of fuel that when lit, makes a fire light and burn for hours.
Sitting in a circle on Collaroy Beach, Karen explained the difference between the Dreamtime and the Dreaming, the significance of Totems and skin names and the difference between a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country.
'Your Dreaming is the person you are meant to be. What you aspire to be. You are born with a Dreaming but it is up to you to discover your Dreaming. You need to decide what that Dreaming is. When you follow your Dreaming you will be happy. But don't mix your Dreaming with survival. Every person, no matter Aboriginal or not Aboriginal, has a Dreaming.'
There was a chance for the volunteers to connect with Rosy Setephano, Tom Vidot and Alex Murrie, past and current Lasallian volunteers and workers in Balgo. There was constant advice-giving and guidance on how to handle the complex environment and new relationship between the two cultures, such as how to form a relationship with the students at the school whilst adhering to protocol and embracing their culture.
The knowledge Karen shared was a rare source of wisdom most people don't learn at school. As Aboriginal Coordinator at Oakhill College, this newly introduced role is one step closer to a more educated and informed generation of Australians of the true history of the land.