Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s day
“As a proud Gundungurra and Thurawal woman” ….. those are words that I love to speak but words that were not always part of my life. You see I didn’t always know that I was Aboriginal.
I grew up in the small western region towns of Temora and Young thinking that my heritage was Irish and Dutch. My maiden name, O’Callaghan, was clearly Irish and the mentality of our ‘Irish clan’ on my paternal side is very strong. We would travel ‘home’ to Temora and have large gatherings around a table and if anyone was in trouble or needed support, everyone came home and mucked in or just spent time together, giving strength from the clan. On my maternal side the Dutch heritage was never really spoken about, that I can remember. We would travel to Camden, where my Mum was born and raised, for holidays and other family events but we didn’t talk about, celebrate or really include any Dutch heritage or traditions into our gatherings.
I found out about my Aboriginal heritage when I was around 8 years old. I remember telling my friends one day that ‘I was Aboriginal’! They laughed! “How can you all of a sudden be Aboriginal?” I didn’t know the answers and nor did my family really, the Stolen Generation took care of that. What I do remember is the disbelief, the laughing, the comments “but you do not even LOOK Aboriginal and of course, the immediate shame.
I spent the next 25 or so years attached to my Irish roots. I would acknowledge that I was Aboriginal but I identified very strongly with my dad and his ‘clan’. I watched my brother play in the Impaja Cup and was there, watching, when he was Vice Captain of the Australian Indigenous Cricket Team during the 2009 Indigenous XI UK tour.
My Mum inspired me everyday as she went to work for Catholic Education as the Aboriginal Education Officer: always seeking to close the gap; make things better for Aboriginal students and families; teaching teachers how to include Aboriginal Cross Curriculum perspectives. But I never really got involved or wanted to find out about that side of my family and identity.
That all changed when I had children. After having Patrick, I felt a strong urge to find out who I was; who my mob was and how that made me who I am. I couldn’t control the need to find out, the feeling of being a little lost and knowing that there was a part of me that was missing. I knew that I wanted my children to have the connection that I never had.
I also started learning. Learning about our mob, our totems and how that related to me as a woman but more importantly as a mum. When Matilda came along, I felt connected to my culture but still had a thirst to know more. In 2020 we discovered our Thurawal heritage is linked to the Thurawal totem of a whale. The Appin Massacre is also part of our story. This knowledge, intertwined and inseparable, speaks very strongly to my inner being.
I have since had several life changing experiences that have connected me to land, to culture and to elders. I now have my own strong connection to people and places, not just mirrors of the one that my Mum or brother have. It is different; it is strong; and, it is now an absolute part of who I am.
On August 4, we celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. Children’s Day is a time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities, and ALL Australians celebrate the strengths and culture of our children.
The first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day was established in 1988. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and elders believed we needed to celebrate our children, to give them confidence and make them feel special and feel included.
August 4 was chosen as it was the date historically used to communally celebrate the birthdays of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were taken from their families at a young age, without knowing their birthday.
This year I have taken more notice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day because my children, now in Year 3 and in Preschool, are becoming more vocal about their heritage. They talk about their totems and are able to explain that even though they don’t look like your stereotypical Aboriginal person, they most definitely are; they come from Gundungurra and Thurawal land.
We always hear about how our children are the future. My own journey demonstrates how important is it is to know ones heritage, to celebrate Aboriginal culture in order to build the future. I now know that my culture is rich and vibrant; it is something to be proud of.
I am a proud Gundungurra and Thurawal woman. I want to encourage my children and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to be confident, to stand up and be proud of who they are. To learn from our elders, to involve ourselves in our culture, to share that with our friends and family. To say ‘This is who I am and this is where I come from”, to flourish as First Nations People with confidence and lead us into the future.
For more information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s day or get involved visit: https://www.aboriginalchildrensday.com.au/
- Sharee Thomas is the Religious Education Coordinator at St Francis of Assisi Primary School, Calwell, a mother and a proud Gundungurra and Thurawal woman