Born and raised Coffs Coast local Clark Webb has a passion for education and improving the future of the local Indigenous population, working passionately to preserve the Gumbaynggirr language and showing young Aboriginal people they can achieve success by setting an example. FOCUS sat down with Clark to find out more about the programmes and initiatives that he’s involved with.
Can you tell us a bit about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I was raised at Nana Glen, where my parents always made sure I knew my connection to the whole of the Coffs Coast as a Gumbaynggirr person, especially Red Rock/Corindi, Moonee Beach, Nana Glen, Coffs and many other local areas. My grandmother was born in the sand dunes at Red Rock.
What do you love about living in the area?
The first thing that comes to mind is, what is not to love? There’s so much to do in the area. One can enjoy the beach, as well as the bush, and there are heaps of sporting and social clubs that one can join.
We’re also lucky enough to be home to one of the oldest cultures in the world, as well as many different cultures and walks of life that can all learn from each other.
How did you become involved in education?
I went to the University of Sydney, where I became a founding member of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) in 2005. Since then, I’ve always been involved in increasing the educational and cultural achievement of Aboriginal youth.
Explain what Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan is …
Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan translates to “two path strong” in the Gumbaynggirr language. It is a programme that is designed to increase the cultural and educational success of Aboriginal communities on the Coffs Coast by offering after school learning places, community Gumbaynggirr language classes and cultural camps.
Basically, the goal of our programme is to ensure that our youth are highly educated so that they can compete for quality jobs, whilst at the same time being knowledgeable and proud of who they are as Aboriginal people.
We started in 2010 through a partnership with AIME, Coffs Harbour Local Aboriginal Land Council and Woolgoolga High School, after we stumbled on extensive research and evidence highlighting that after school learning is paramount to the development of young people all over the world.
So to kick off our programmes, we started with after school learning places at Wongala Estate Aboriginal Reserve and Woolgoolga High School. We then extended and set up another learning place at William Bayldon Primary School in 2012. All the above was facilitated in a voluntary capacity by a number of people.
In 2013, ‘14 and ‘15 we received funding from the Federal Government’s PaCE initiative, which allowed us to extend our programmes to include cultural camps and community Gumbaynggirr language classes.
How are you working to make sure the Gumbaynggirr language not only survives, but thrives, and as a result is handed down to future generations?
We see the learning of Gumbaynggirr as vital to the programmes we run. By learning language, we learn culture. Language gives us a sense of pride that is unexplainable. The pride we feel from learning language, culture and knowing who we are as Aboriginal people forms the foundation for us to achieve in education, sport etc.
Therefore, language is at the forefront of our after school learning places and cultural camps. We also run a community Gumbaynggirr language class.
For me personally, I feel that I have achieved in education due to being proud of who I am. My parents always instilled in myself and my brother and sisters a sense of pride in our Aboriginality. Although we didn’t fluently speak language at home, it was always thought of and spoken about. My father would tell stories of his grandfathers speaking Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung, but that he wasn’t allowed to learn or speak for fear of being taken away by the government welfare people. So now, learning language has given me a new dimension to knowing my culture and who I am.
Just a few weeks ago we hosted a Native American man, Neyooxet Greymorning, who has developed a method of teaching Indigenous languages which has not only proved successful for his language (Arapaho) but also for many languages around the world. This method is called Accelerated Second Language Acquisition (ASLA) and it was taught to 15 Gumbaynggirr teachers and speakers. We are now very excited to implement the blueprint we have been gifted with in our programmes.
How hard is it to learn to speak Gumbaynggirr?
It is a bit difficult to learn Gumbaynggirr, because there aren’t many fluent speakers of Gumbaynggirr in our community. It is therefore difficult to be immersed in the language. There are many historical reasons for not having many speakers. For a time, if a language speaker was caught teaching or speaking language, they could be thrown in gaol. And the kids who were most likely to be stolen from their parents were kids who were heard speaking language by the government welfare officials. Therefore, many people of my parents’ generation were banned from speaking language by their community, for fear of them being taken away.
To compare the difficulty of learning Gumbaynggirr with other languages (e.g. French), if one goes to France, that person becomes immersed in French and hence learns much of the language (because they need to, in order to get by!) So the difficulty in learning Gumbaynggirr stems from the difficulty in being immersed in the language.
Although there are difficulties, once the grammar of Gumbaynggirr is understood, speaking Gumbaynggirr is then really enjoyable. Hopefully we will have more and more fluent speakers in the near future, who will then be able to more easily pass it on to future generations.
You are seen as a role model by both younger Indigenous and Non-indigenous crew. How important do you feel it is for them to have people like yourself setting the example?
I’m not sure that I’m deserving of the tag “role model”, but having role models is really important in any community. There are many people in the local community whom I look to for guidance and inspiration.
And I’m also continually inspired by our youth, who never cease to impress me, which gives me the motivation to keep acting. I try to stay humble and lead by example and action. I also frequently reflect on myself and question my own motivations and whether I’m adhering to the goals, aspirations and expectations of our community.
Being an uncle to many and now a father has also really inspired me to be the best person I can be. For most people, their initial role modelling is from their parents, so hopefully my daughter and nieces and nephews will be actively involved in community and become fluent Gumbaynggirr speakers.
My idea of a role model is someone who is about action, humbleness and a person who can admit to their mistakes and rectify them accordingly.
You’re an active sportsman; what sports are you involved in?
My main involvement is Rugby League. I am an Orara Valley Axemen junior, but had four really enjoyable seasons at Woolgoolga Seahorses, before returning to Orara this year.
I also grew up playing baseball and softball. I haven’t played baseball for a couple of seasons, but I love the game and will go back once I retire from footy.
I also love surfing and stand up paddling, and I try to get in the water every day (time permitting). I find that getting in the water helps me to function a whole lot better!
What have being some of the highlights of your sporting career?
You can love sport all you want, but sometimes sport doesn’t love you back! So I’ve had some highs mixed with lows.
One of my highlights quickly became undone by a low. In 2003 (when I was 18) I was a member of the Orara Valley Axemen team that was the first to win the right to host the Group 2 Grand Final. I am still really proud of this team achievement and honoured that I was a part of it at such a young age. However, unfortunately 20 minutes into the Grand Final I sustained a broken and dislocated collar bone and to make it worse, we lost the game. A high followed by a low.
Other highlights are being picked in the Australian Universities Rugby League Team in 2005 and touring Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand; vice captaining the under 19s Men’s Softball team at two national titles (although we lost both Grand Finals by one run); touring Canada, America, Germany and Singapore for softball; and winning a premiership with Sydney University Rugby Union Club in the Sydney U20s competition in 2004.
One funny highlight occurred at a packed Brookvale Oval in 2007, when I was playing footy for North Sydney in the NSW Cup (reserve grade) competition against Manly. I scored a try and as I jumped up and celebrated, I was met with a deafening silence. I had scored in front of only Manly supporters … that was awkward!