Evangeline’s story – creating new connections to traditional culture

Project Compassion Week 4: Northern Territaory, Australia.
Evangeline goes to the bush with her elders to learn more about traditional ways. “If I share my knowledge back at Beswick, other young people might get interested in working and keeping culture.” Photo: Richard Wainwright/Caritas.

Posted on 7 March 2016

‘We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning He meant us to live it.” Ephesians 2:10.

When Evangeline left high school she had a limited vision for her future. But the training she’s received while working at the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, supported by Caritas Australia, has helped her develop new skills and ignited her passion for the maintenance and preservation of her Aboriginal culture.

Evangeline is a proud young (Ramingining) woman living in the small community of Beswick (Wugularr), 100km east of Katherine in the Northern Territory.

Like many remote First Australian communities, Beswick faces a range of complex ongoing challenges. Many people in the town feel disempowered by poorly conceived policies and decisions. A lack of access to services and general feelings of helplessness, rejection and loss also mean that a lot of families struggle with financial hardship.

“Not enough jobs, housing is still too crowded, alcohol problems and health problems,” Evangeline said.

In the community of just 450 people, education is accessible but finishing school doesn’t always feel possible. Evangeline completed Year 11, but even though she liked school, she didn’t consider doing Year 12.

“Everyone at Beswick doesn’t finish high school,” she said. “I didn’t really think about doing more education at the time.”

After high school, Evangeline tried a few career options, but soon felt dispirited. “I got caught up in drinking for a while,” she admitted. “But by the time I was 22, I really started to think about doing something positive with my life.”

Evangeline, an Artsworker at Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, talking to another staff member. Photo: Richard Wainwright/Caritas.

Evangeline, an Artsworker at Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, talking to another staff member. Photo: Richard Wainwright/Caritas.

With this in mind, Evangeline approached the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre in Beswick. The Centre is an entirely community-owned venture, supported by Caritas Australia’s Development of Cultural Enterprise program.

At the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, the aim is to bring together elders and young people, like Evangeline, so new generations can learn traditional skills and understand cultural knowledge.

This is done through many mediums including art, storytelling, dance and song which helps create a sense of cultural ownership and responsibility in the community. The centre also develops cultural enterprises, including exhibiting and selling locally produced artwork.

Evangeline had sought work at the centre several times before, and her determination paid off when a short-term maternity contract became available. The management at the Centre quickly recognised Evangeline’s potential and within months she was offered a full-time role as an Artsworker.

Since joining the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, Evangeline has truly flourished. She’s undertaken many training programs in the past three years, and was the youngest Artsworker to be accepted into the ANKAAA Artsworkers Extension Program.

The program took Evangeline to Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. “We visited the big art galleries, learning about conservation and collections,” she said. “I had to give talks about Djilpin Arts, including PowerPoint presentations.”

Evangeline excelled in the program, and was invited back to Melbourne the following year to mentor new undergraduates, and share her experience, culture and learnings.

Evangeline is happy to have such a fulfilling role, which is helping her achieve a future she’d never imagined. “This opportunity has helped me turn my life into something more positive,” she said. “It makes

me more confident and more independent.”

In her newest role as Senior Artsworker, Evangeline is committed to helping her community remain connected to their culture. “If I share my knowledge back at Beswick, other young people might get interested in working and keeping culture,” Evangeline said.

“Culture is our identity and how we understand ourselves. It’s important for us young people to be able to learn these skills and then we can pass them on when we are old.”

With the support of Caritas Australia, Evangeline and her community are gaining the skills and desire to preserve traditional culture, and encourage a new phase of arts and cultural expression. Or, as Evangeline simply says: “You are helping us to keep our culture alive.”

To donate to Project Compassion 2016 and help First Australians in remote communities gain new skills and renewed passion to preserve and celebrate traditional culture, click here

Source: Caritas Australia

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