How we embrace Aboriginal culture, during NAIDOC Week and everyday

June 23, 2022

Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! is this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, and there is no shortage of that happening at CatholicCare right now. From young people in our Permanency Support Program showing up to National Reconciliation Week marches to staff in Children’s Services engaging children with bush tucker gardens and Aboriginal art, the momentum for change and greater cultural connection is growing. And there is no slowing down. 

For 17-year-old Michael* in our Permanency Support Program, joining the Ngaliya program revealed to him a lifestyle that didn’t involve drugs and alcohol. It didn’t take long for Michael to decide that this was a lifestyle he wanted for himself. Through the program, Michael connected with an Aboriginal mentor whose former life resembled Michael’s, with drugs, alcohol and homelessness being recurrent themes. “He just gets my story,” Michael often says. “He’s experienced what I have and has come out the other end.”  

Michael’s CatholicCare Case Manager, Nickola speaks with great joy and pride about Michael’s journey and the significant role that culture plays in his life today. “Any time I mention an Aboriginal event or engagement opportunity he’s all in,” Nickola says. “He’s enjoying these opportunities so much that when he realised he had an important appointment coming up that clashed with Ngaliya, he said, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to Ngaliya.”  

Nickola explains that while Michael has ongoing issues, his connection to country and culture has equipped him with the skills he needs to manage them. As a young Darkinjung man, Nickola says that Michael knows the Central Coast better than anyone she knows. Michael’s experience of homelessness has contributed to his amazing knowledge of the Central Coast. Michael also has a keen interest in fishing and knows where on the Coast you can find the best catch. Referring to his knowledge of the land he grew up on, Michael says, “I know where I’m going.”  

Michael has recently been accepted into the Indigenous Justice Program and he will be provided with an Indigenous Case Worker and mentor through the program. Nickola was very excited to hear that Michael will also be performing a dance in one of this year’s NAIDOC Week events. “Unfortunately not all Aboriginal young people are so connected with their culture, so this is very special to see,” Nickola says. 

For children in CatholicCare’s Out of School Hours Care (OSHC) program at Tumbi Umbi, connecting with country and culture has also been a big theme this year. Educational Leader Debbie , inspired by her own Indigenous background, is working on developing greater knowledge of Aboriginal culture and sustainable practices among children and staff. Of the 120 children in the OSHC program at Tumbi Umbi, approximately 10 are of Aboriginal  heritage.  

“This year we’ve been working closely with St John the Baptist school to incorporate a bush tucker garden onsite,” Debbie says. “We also had Aunty Tracy, an Aboriginal artist visit us over a three-week period to work on an artwork with the kids …  and another visitor, Johnathon has taught us dance and Aboriginal games.” Debbie says that the children have been very engaged, and the activities have led to many curious questions, especially from the non-Indigenous children. “Until now, there has been limited cultural influence, but CatholicCare are keen to change that” Debbie says. “Our team is motivated by a desire to engage in more sustainable practices and connect the children with culture, nature and wildlife.”   

NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate the many who have driven and led change in our communities over generations. We acknowledge in a particular way this week, our CatholicCare staff who enrich our clients and staff with the deep beauty, richness and wisdom of Aboriginal culture.   

* Young person’s name changed to protect his privacy