Stories preserved

Elaine Meyer, Donald Smith and Patricia Crook at the launch. Photo by Martin Lazarus

THROUGH a thick cloud of symbolic smoke, the launch of the first of Elder Cliff Humphries’ dreaming stories was held at Perth Waldorf School on December 2. 

As reported in the Herald, the launch marked the first of a collection of books to be published in collaboration with students from the school (“A Dream Come True,” November 28, 2020). 

Over a period of nine afternoons, students from classes 7, 9 and 12 created illustrations for Mr Humphries’ original dreaming story Aalidja Maali Yok Birrla-ngat Kor-iddny (Swan Woman Returns to her River) in workshops run by Humphries’ family. 

The launch was held by project coordinators Elaine Meyer and Patricia Crook, drawing a large crowd of those from both the Noongar and Wadjela communities.

Happiness

“My heart is full of happiness,” said Ms Meyer, whose own questioning of why Indigenous culture and language was not being taught in schools inspired her to take a lead role in the project. 

Mr Humphries’ great grandson Donald Smith performed the traditional Welcome to Country with clapping sticks and body paint, in front of a portrait of his great grandfather painted by class 12 student Sophie Halbert. 

The walls of the school’s Seekers Place boasted rich colours from the students’ artwork of Noongar flora and fauna, which were also reflected in the book itself. 

Aalidja Maali Yok Birrla-ngat Kor-iddny was transcribed directly from videos Mr Humphries recorded of life in Bibbulmun country as a child, offering readers the option to scan a QR code to enter 

an interactive experience of watching him while reading along. 

Wearing scarves printed with Mr Humphries’ traditional skin bird, the sacred kingfisher, his daughters Dawn Smith, Rachel Fitzgerald, Carol  Yarran and Olive Humphries were elated as they addressed the community. 

“We had to protect dad’s songs because we didn’t know what would happen to them. We have waited a long time for this day,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

“This is just the beginning.”

The book uses illustration, storytelling and musical notation to create a unique cultural experience for the reader; letters and words are used to create images of what they are, such as the word around being written in a circle. 

Mr Smith concluded the launch with a performance of the Djiti Djiti song alongside a caged willie wagtail, encouraging the community to join in in song.

Aalidja Maali Yok Birrla-ngat Kor-iddny can be purchased from Perth Waldorf School front office. 

Despite the success of the launch, the issue remains of why Indigenous culture and language is not being taught in schools. 

According to WA’s education department, Indigenous languages are being offered in some schools, but more so in remote communities where the student population are more commonly of Indigenous decent. 

Mr Humphries’ story Aalidja Maali Yok Birrla-ngat Kor-iddny formed part of the evidence used to secure native title across the South West for Noongars in the landmark 2006 federal court case Bennell v State of Western Australian. 

by PIP WALLER

2 responses to “Stories preserved

  1. The project coordinator was Elaine Meyer. Her name is incorrect in the article and photo caption.
    This was a wonderful project and all involved including the coordinators, Humphries family, students and school should be very proud of themselves for what they have produced and it’s larger contribution towards reconciliation. Well done.

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