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Connecting youngsters with country

Working on the SPIRIT program in Bourke – film-maker Irene Ulman, award winning journalist Allan Clarke, director Fiona Smith, Michael Steel and Rafal Dabrowski, and Pania Tahu, and Douglas Smith at front Photo TWH

The red dirt country became the classroom when a group of Bourke High School students took part in a unique project to reconnect them with their culture and identity.

Called the SPIRIT project, the aim is for young people to learn their stories, through the tradition of storytelling. Their stories were recorded, combining the ancient craft of oral history with modern storytelling tools — Instagram and Facebook.

Fiona Smith is director of the SPIRIT project and worked on the Bourke project alongside Walkley award winning documentary-maker Allan Clarke, a former Bourke High School student.

The team spent a week with the high school students out ‘on country’ last week. These children are involved with the Maranguka organisation, and are children that Fiona says are not fully engaged with the education process and spend too much of their childhood on the streets.

Fiona said for both groups of young people, the storytelling experience was profound.

“To tell you the truth, they blew us away,” Fiona said. “They surprised us with the interest level, they want to keep going, they don’t want it to stop.

“We wanted to see how interested they were in learning about their culture and the history of Bourke and the whole plan is to get a story from each of their families.

“We took two of our elders out to the river and the children interviewed them, asking them about what life was like when they were growing up and what had changed and that was a remarkable day.

“The kids spent a whole week interviewing and recording each other. It was a culture shock for them because they didn’t realise how much they didn’t know.

Read more in the Western Herald printed edition.

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