You and Me Murrawee, by Kerri Hashmi and Felicity Marshall.
You and Me Murrawee compares the lives of a white Australian child in the current day and an Aboriginal child over 200 years ago. I had a chat with the children in playgroup at the start of the story about how different the lives of Aboriginal people are these days. There are many Aboriginal families living in Kingswood Park, and they get their food from the local supermarket, and live in houses, and wear clothes like everyone else. Not many Aboriginal people live a traditional life these days but there are some parts of the culture that they still enjoy and this will be different for each family or person.
I adore the paragraph in the book which goes “As we nestle in by the campfires in the dark, your grandmother takes you into her arms and tells you the old, old stories of the river, its creation, its floods, and its droughts. I strain to hear her stories, but they are lost in the winds of time. Instead I listen with my family to songs on the radio, sung by people who have never seen this river.”
It reminds me of the project I did in Kingswood Park in 2009 called When We Were Kids which was funded by Penrith City Council’s Magnetic places project. One of the schools’ grandmas, Sam, spoke of her childhood living next to the Nepean River. She lived in a little house with no electricity and no bathroom. When the river flooded the house was flooded. The family did a lot of fishing and back then the river was so clear you could see the bottom. She was a young grandma, probably only in her 50’s. How things have changed. This is what Sam said…
“I grew up in Emu Plains on the river bank of the Nepean. We lived in a small house – just two rooms. I don’t remember having lighting or running water. The ice man used to come with a big block of ice to keep food cool. We had a donkey, a cow, some ducks, and a pink pig. There was tank water, but we’d also go to the river. We cooked on a primus stove.
Our nearest neighbour was the Sunday school up at Emu Heights. It was quite remote where we were. They still had the old trams running up the mountain. Gee, I sound old don’t I? The tram went as far as Emu Heights up the mountain, and we’d sneak up and play there on the tramlines, and get back before dark.
When it rained we’d get the tank water but we’d also get flooded. We were right on the river, and we’d say,” Here we go again” and we’d watch the house go under water right up to the chimney. When the water went down we’d go back again. We’d have to get rid of the silt and then the same thing would happen again the following year.
We moved to the other side of Emu Plains when I was about eleven, to an area that didn’t flood. The river was diverted the other way and now there are lots of houses where we once lived. I remember the sand buckets going up the river on a line to build Warragamba Dam. We’d hop in them and ride in them. We jumped out before they got too high up.
We all went fishing – the whole lot of us – my brother and mum and dad. We never had any rellies or anything. When we brought the fish home we had to clean them. We were taught how to do it. It was cheap food.
We fished a lot, because back then the water in the Nepean River was clear. You could see the fish swimming under the water. That was really beautiful.”
Hearing the stories from our elders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, is so special.