“Through his work in local schools and the Saltwater Freshwater Art Alliance, Tyson loves sharing his Aboriginal culture and heritage, which will also be celebrated at NAIDOC Week in July.”
Tell us about your Aboriginal heritage …
Giinagay (Hello, how are you) in Gumbaynggirr language.
I am a proud Gumbaynggirr/Bundjalung man, born and raised on the Coffs coast. I was raised by my mum, a strong Bundjalung woman and have one sister who is much younger than me. Growing up, we didn’t know much about our Aboriginal heritage or language, but we did often use a few lingo words around the house such as niing (stop), buluuny (stomach) and jarjum (kids). While growing up, I had an opportunity to learn more about my heritage, as I was given the chance in Year nine at high school to attend a ‘Gumbaynggirr Language class’ over at the Coffs Harbour Education Campus.
I was so excited to learn not only about the traditional language from our Gumbaynggirr Nation, but more about myself as an individual – as an Aboriginal man. I felt more of a connection to the land and spiritually from learning the language. Through participating in the course and building my knowledge, I was given the opportunity to teach the Gumbaynggirr language at several schools on the Coffs Coast, including Tyalla Primary School, Woolgoolga High and Primary Schools, Sandy Beach Primary School, as well as with very young koori kids at Kulai Preschool in Coffs.
I am currently teaching language at my old high school, John Paul College, which is fantastic. I truly feel like I am giving back to the community and helping to revitalise our language.
Was celebrating your cultural identity a part of your school life?
I went to St Augustine’s Primary School in Coffs and then attended John Paul College for my high school education. Both schools encouraged Aboriginal students to explore their heritage and identity through class activities, as well as extra-curricular programs. I especially loved that we were able to translate our heritage into creative activities such as artwork, Dream-time storytelling and experimenting with bush tucker. We often had the opportunity to bring a non-indigenous person with us to cultural events and celebrations. I encouraged 5 other kids to participate in one activity, which made me feel that I was not only I celebrating my heritage, but sharing it with others.
This makes me proud of who I am. By sharing culture, we give people the gift of insight into other worlds. It is up to each individual to decide how valuable or relevant that experience is to them. I, for one, love to learn about not only Aboriginal culture, but also other Indigenous peoples from across the world, their practises, culture food and arts.
Storytelling and creativity holds a prominent place in Aboriginal Culture. How has this influenced your life and your career?
Traditionally, the exchange of information has been oral rather than documented, so storytelling has been imperative in passing knowledge and cultural practices from one generation to the next. It is through storytelling and creativity in arts that we have the opportunity to share our unique Aboriginal culture and heritage.
Storytelling can portray past experiences and also communicate cultural protocols; for example, respecting Elders; and not to collect items such as rocks and other natural items that have a connection to the country, as they could contain something that is harmful to your own spirit. Storytelling tells us what animals mean to each language group, such as the Mopoke (an owl) who is viewed as the deliverer of bad news for Gumbaynggirr people.
It is a fascinating practice that passes knowledge from generation to generation and one that has helped me respect my Elders, respect the land that I live on and be conscious of others and their beliefs.
We celebrate NAIDOC Week in July. As an Aboriginal man, what does this mean to you?
NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
It is a fantastic time to celebrate our culture and our history through many mediums such as dance, music, language and art, showcasing the wonderful talent we have on the Coffs coast. And it’s a great time to catch up with friends and families that you don’t see very often!
What’s your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I was born and raised on the Coffs coast. An Elder once told me that the land you are born on you kind of inherit a part of it, so for me my parents are Bundjalung, but I was born on Gumbaynggirr land, so I am Gumbaynggirr first and Bundjalung second.
How are you involved with Saltwater Freshwater Alliance, and what does the organisation do?
I am the Aboriginal Assistant Administration and Cultural Worker! Basically, I am involved day to day with the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance which works at a regional, state and national level to position Aboriginal Art and Culture as the foundation for the long-term social, economic and environmental development of the Mid North Coast Aboriginal communities.
Our core program includes: arts and skills development; promotion of Aboriginal culture; national Aboriginal design agency; the annual Saltwater Freshwater Festival.
Our projects aim to:
Provide opportunities for communities to express their unique cultural traditions through various forms of expression, including exhibitions and festivals; introduce the public to the diversity of artistic talent on the Mid North Coast and provide opportunities for cultural exchange; promote the region’s cultural richness under the Saltwater Freshwater brand; and assist communities in the region to preserve culture by supporting the intergenerational transfer of traditional and local knowledge.
What is happening in Coffs for NAIDOC Week that people can be involved in?
There is a lot happening in Coffs for NAIDOC Week. One of my favourites is the Official Opening and Flag Raising at the Coffs Harbour City Council, on Monday 2 July this year.
And if you want to see some deadly talent from local Aboriginal artists, come along to the ‘Goori’s Got Deadly Talent’ night being held at the Jetty Theatre Tuesday 3 July. If you enjoy getting down and having a boogie on the dance floor, why not come along to the CHASE ‘NAIDOC 70s Disco Fever’ at Club Coffs Friday 6 – you will definitely see me there!
For info regarding all that is happening around town during NAIDOC Week jump on our Facebook site: www.facebook.com/swfw.arts and like our page. We have the complete program up for you to view.
Yarri Yarraang! (See you later!)
This story was published in issue 22 of the Coffs Coast Focus