So, every holidays I would get on the plane to Brisbane where my Uncle Lyndon ("Gunk") and his wife Aunty Nicole ("Nicky") would be waiting. I have a close bond and relationship with my Aunt, who is like a mother to me (to some resentment nowadays from my "real" mother because Nicky is white.)
"How does it feeeeel???" Childhood connections with my dance culture
I loved these holidays because the one thing I missed when away from the sunny coast (apart from my family) was doing Corroboree (Aboriginal dancing). I had started at age seven, out in the back yard and in the lounge room when Uncle "Gunk" would play the didgeridoo and teach my brother, sister, little cousins and me our songs and dances.
We later progressed to performing in front of crowds at the Eumundi markets, then the Woodford Folk Festival. I can remember those days like it was yesterday and how great it felt to perform in front of people despite how nervous and "shamejob" we were. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woodford_Folk_Festival)
Imagine with me the feelings that go through your body when you hear the clap sticks clapping and the didgeridoo playing and the words to our traditional songs being sung with such passion and soul. Now start to move your hands and stomp your feet with me, feeling the land beneath your toes and connecting with it. Next, do the movements to the songs where you may be portraying an animal with your movements or even playing a tree as we do our "bush honey tree dance". The whole experience is something you can't describe. Just feel it with me. It's better than moshing at a rock concert!
Getting ready before a performance is also a special time. They are very strict; the girls have to "dress up" far away from the boys and the men. But then everyone goes together to one of the elders to get "painted up" with ochre, which is a soft rock that we grind up to a powder, then mix with water to make a thick goo that we paint on our bodies. This was a wonderful experience, because whichever uncle was doing the painting would explain to the whole group the symbols here on our body, which made a story and also representations of our land and tribe. (www.aboriginalartonline.com)
I was so fortunate to have great male role models in my life. I felt so safe and protected around my uncles and still do. They are the best! They take after Pop, who worked hard and never drank, swore or smoked a day in his life. He was so kind and chivalrous; yet he was as strict as they come!
My children are following in my (dance) footsteps
Psalm 78 verse 4: "We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done."
Our seven kids - three of husband Eddie's from a previous marriage, three foster children who are Eddie's relatives, and our own little Nullen - already represent Eddie's "Dubbi Warra" tribe from Hopevale (Cape York). Recently we attended two dance festivals, where my uncles gave the six older kids permission to dance, and they were adopted into my tribe too and got to experience some of the great things that I remember.
Indigenous men are in short supply in our communities all over Australia, and it warmed my heart to see these shy kids become comfortable with my uncles. Damian, the eldest, already knew and loved my uncles but the others were at first in awe of them, but grew to love them. The elders all showed such great leadership to these kids who now have so much respect for "their" uncles.
At the annual Cooroy Fusion Festival, the children went out with my uncles, all painted up, onto the main stage in front of 6000 people. It was one of the proudest moments of mine and their lives! (See the accompanying photos).
I had been quite nervous, even though we had been practising for nearly two months at home guided by a YouTube clip of my uncles dancing, and what I remember of the songs and steps. Thankfully all the practice and prayers leading up to this event paid off. Every movement was perfect; the kids were full of smiles of joy and pride for what they were doing. They nailed it!
They performed again that afternoon in Kawana Waters on a big stage in front of a crowd of hundreds. Although I really would have loved to join them as my uncles invited me to, I thought I'd just watch as a proud parent again. I was so happy and pleased that they weren't even nervous.
People were extremely surprised and amazed when we told them it was the kids' first time dancing; many said they looked like professionals, and they totally did. They were fantastic.
Continuous threads through the generations
Locals who have been following my uncles' dance troupe for years came and spoke to my uncles and aunty about how today's performance was by far THE best they have ever seen. Heaps of people took photos of the children and gave us great compliments. The kids felt so great about themselves; they were in their element.
I was so proud and happy that my kids got to experience something that made my childhood happy, and now they are a part of something that is from my background. We are going to make these performances a regular event on our yearly calendar.
God is good! He works in great ways and I'm so thankful to him for everything.
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html