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Embracing the Wisdom of Our Elders with Connie Robinson

Join us in our latest interview with Connie, a proud Banjima woman, as she shares her cherished memories and the stories passed down by her elders. This article offers a unique perspective from our Banjima community, exploring the profound connections, cultural traditions, and invaluable life lessons learned from our admired Banjima elders from those who look up to them the most.

What does the theme “For Our Elders” mean to you? 

For me, when I think about elders, I get that feeling of the strong love that they have and their knowledge, their respect, their wisdom of culture, and knowing our family connections, the garltharda (skin colour). Our elders are our teachers for song lines, dancers, and our languages. And they know the different languages as well, from the different language groups and their stories. Our elders are also astronomers. They know the names and stories of our solar system and dreamtime stories that belong to the milky way (e.g the emu in the sky). They teach us about the seasons and that goes into our hunting and gathering. They know what's in season and the best place to go hunting and fishing and of course they know our Country. To do anything we need their permission if we want to do anything and we always go and seek their guidance and counsel and then that's passed down to us. Being an elder, it's not so much about your age, it's got to do with how much you know and your knowledge of Lore and culture. 

Do you have a memory or a story that highlights something the elders have taught you?

There has been a lot of times that we sat down and had a yarn, especially with Youngaleena, boss Papa Tim's father, and the times that we spent with him and the times that we spent out at Waka listening to mum and her grandmothers talking. So I have a lot of good stories and memories that I remember. I remember out at Youngaleena boss was telling me the story of the seven sisters. He used to tell us that they would get fire sticks and hit it against the white gum just as they started to travel in the winter sky at night. Once you hit the sticks against the tree, all the embers keep the 7 sisters warm as they are travelling. And then other ones about when we went travelling with the two old fellas and they told us about the three sisters’ story and how that wasn't a good place to go to.

What do you think you have learnt from the elders that you value the most?

That love and that knowledge for country. That feeling of coming back home knowing that we belong there as far back as we can go, we belong. You feel it, when you go back on Country, and you have that feeling of them teaching you and them being with you. 

How do you see the role of elders in preserving and passing down cultural knowledge?

It's essential. It’s pretty much everything for our Banjima culture to survive from language to dance, to song.

What do you think are some challenges faced by elders today and how do you think we could address them now?

Talking to them and listening to them if anything. Building that connection with them more again and going back on country and learning from them. And not just my own close family, but there's so many elders within our Banjima Language group. Connecting with all of them would be great to go out on a camp or a dinner out or something with them and learning. They all got their own individual stories and learning and how they are and what they've learnt. The more you get to know them, the more knowledge you hopefully get passed down. 

What differences do you see in how your elders grew up to how you & your children have grown up? Has it gotten better or worse maybe?

It’s not so much worse, it's better because mum's gotten to know more of it as we have grown up. So, you know, she's gained that knowledge, but it's also being down in Perth, you know, getting back up and being around the family. Mum’s generation learnt from her old people. So with the old people that we've already lost a lot have died with them and has not been passed down. I feel some parts there that we have missed out on this my generation and now my kids and grandchildren's generation. That's why I'm saying to get together with as many old people as we can to rebuild that.

Things are different. Back in the day our old people had to work on the stations with no pay. Everything was separated into black and white. They were denied access to the same education as we have today. We are lucky, my generation and the younger generation because we didn’t go through what our old people did, like for my grandmother who was a part of the stolen generation.

This year I think everyone should embrace the wisdom of our elders. I wish they could live forever, but I suppose they do as they pass their knowledge down to us.