First published on the official blog of Andrew Vann, Vice-Chancellor and President, Charles Sturt University.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following post contains images and names of people who have died. Permission has been granted to use the names and image of the deceased persons.
Reconciliation Week is an important time in Australia’s calendar. As a nation we are continually working to achieve reconciliation through a whole range of initiatives, and Reconciliation Week itself brings the issue front of mind for us all.
The theme for Reconciliation Week this year is ‘Don’t keep history a mystery: Learn. Share. Grow’. Given what we are trying to achieve here at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in terms of our work with the community, as Vice-Chancellor this theme could not resonate more strongly with me. We are working to build the cultural competence of our staff and students, support Indigenous research and develop specific projects with the community that enhance and inform our relationships.
Reconciliation Australia, through the theme for this year, invites all Australians to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories, to share that knowledge which will help us grow as a nation. Specifically, they note that the theme “explores history hidden just beneath the surface, ready and waiting to be uncovered”.
With this in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the life of Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Jimmy Ingram. It was with great sadness that the university learnt of Uncle Jimmy’s passing on 28 March 2018, aged 82.
While Uncle Jimmy did a lot of work with the university and specifically has had great input into the Nation Building work within the Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage, I wanted to focus on his most recent storytelling.
In 2017, through the Giilang biladha (river of stories) project with Burambabili Gulbali and CSU, Uncle Jimmy wrote his book A Mother as Loving as You that was illustrated beautifully by Bernard Sullivan. The book tells the story of Uncle Jimmy’s mother, Lilian May Richie. It reflects on her spirit and the hardships she faced in keeping her children safe and educating them.
At the start of the book, in a conversation published between Uncle Jimmy and Bernard, Uncle Jimmy highlights that the book is important to him because it explains his existence and his meaning. When you read the book, you understand the power of this. Jimmy says his mother was his key cultural guide: “Your father shows you what to do, your mother shows you how to be.”
Jimmy talks powerfully about his parents’ need to keep moving to avoid the children being taken by welfare, and the journey takes them through all the sites familiar to CSU staff members as they drive between campuses and around our region. The book gives a clear sense of what life was like in rural New South Wales in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.
Uncle Jimmy’s book allows the nation to learn, share and grow in a way that is not possible without the stories of our Elders and their families. To dive into the life and culture of an Indigenous person through story provides deep insight into the very reasons why we must continually work on reconciliation and Nation Building.
Here is a quote from Uncle Jimmy’s grandson, Peter Ingram:
My Pop [Uncle Jimmy Ingram] was a truly inspiring and humble man. He would always reflect deeply and question himself, then he’d go home and do some further research, continually circling back to a quieter place within himself. Many people said he was like a prophet, always nailing the issue and describing really tricky and complex things that needed addressing, but in a truly respectful and loving way. Somehow, he always managed to keep his ego in check, while being powerfully true to himself, yet always encouraging us to find our ‘own’ authentic path.
He taught many people, many things, he showed me many places on Country, taught many stories and possibly most importantly, he was a living example of how to be a good person and how to care for Country and how to care for each other.
While it’s tricky trying to directly translate deep cultural concepts into English, maybe Pop’s instructions for the future were aimed at restoring us to wholeness, creating opportunities that allow us to think about how Wiradjuri ways of being can shape our lives in modern times – Wiradjuri gilang (belonging to Wiradjuri).
Pop left clear instructions for rebuilding a more positive and vibrant, shared future for ALL, especially for the generations yet to come, we all need to work together. (Pete Ingram 2018)
Beyond his book, Uncle Jimmy lived a life dedicated to Nation Building that celebrated and shared the relationship of Wiradjuri people to their country. I was fortunate enough to be able to formally acknowledge my thanks of Uncle Jimmy’s work to him in the month before his passing. I was able to tell him that CSU is committed to his vision of supporting self-determined economic, social and cultural opportunities for the Wiradjuri people.
Without the work of Indigenous Elders such as Uncle Jimmy through storytelling, yarning and community collaboration, Australia’s history will not be complete. It is so important that as a community we continue to work together to find these beautiful hidden stories and not only uncover them but celebrate them and make them easily accessible. I will continue to support this throughout my time here at CSU and ensure this richness informs our students, so they enter the world of work with an appreciation of Indigenous culture and an ability to themselves contribute to reconciliation.
Please take the time, not only during Reconciliation Week but throughout the year, to regularly engage in the stories of our past – they are important and need to be understood to be truly culturally respectful to the traditional owners of the lands on which we live, work and interact.
The university’s ethos, Yindyamarra Winhanganha, is a Wiradjuri phrase translated as ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’. At CSU we are working to achieve this every single day, and it is personally one of the things that inspires me to ensure my time at the university is impactful, insightful and inclusive.
I would encourage you to buy a copy of Uncle Jimmy’s book. Read it, enjoy the illustrations, but more importantly, reflect on it and talk about it with the people around you and within your community. It is available to purchase online here.
This Reconciliation Week, I would again like to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and on behalf of my traditional British culture to apologise to the Indigenous people of Australia and the Torres Strait Islands for all the negative impacts of colonisation. As a migrant, I also thank you for your continuing generous welcome to and sharing of your traditional lands. When I think of home, I now think not of Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire or Avon but of Darumbal, Bindal, Wulgurukaba, Wiradjuri and Jinibara country. Your stories, and your continual sharing of them, inform us and build knowledge of culture and history in a deep, personal and meaningful way.
Professor Andrew Vann
Vice-Chancellor and President
Charles Sturt University