NIDA Open explores Australian history with new ‘Aboriginal Perspectives’ program

8 February 2018

NIDA Open is launching a brand new program for schools this May, Making Drama: Aboriginal Perspectives, to help young people in grades 3–6 better understand and fully engage with the rich history of Australia.

‘The idea behind this new program is to give students the immersive experience of interpreting and experiencing indigenous culture, and making drama from it. This will feature Dreamtime stories that have been told for thousands of years,’ commented Russ Smith, Course Manager, Children and Young People, NIDA Open.

‘At NIDA we are all about celebrating storytelling. This program is a way to celebrate Australia’s first peoples and share their stories with young people.’

As a Ngarrindjeri man and a tutor on the course, Russ says the way stories are told in indigenous culture is one of the important aspects of the new program.

‘So much of indigenous culture is shared and transferred through oral language. Stories are told so that the ideas and lessons behind them are remembered. Stories are shared by telling legends of the land, ancient traditions, song and dance,’ said Russ.

Some aspects of indigenous culture are ‘written’ using message sticks and hand painting, but because mobs moved around so much, sharing spoken stories is the best way to preserve them.

‘The need was for this culture and its stories to be passed on; the story form facilitates the transmission of knowledge,’ commented Russ.

‘What will be really interesting about this program is the variety of indigenous story-tellers working with the young people. Coming from different mobs, we will all have unique Dreamtime stories that are special to us and that we want to share.

Photo: Ngarrindjeri man and course tutor Russ Smith

'The story I will share in the workshop was told to me as a child of Ngarrindjeri decent growing up in Western Australia: it is the story of the Nyoongar people and of how they became the Custodians of the land. It’s a very dramatic and strong story with some comedy elements, but the outcome itself is very telling: ultimately, it’s their knowledge of the land and its inhabitants that lead the Nyoongar people to be the caretakers of it and all with in it. This contrasts heavily with, for example, the story of Tiddalik the frog – also a Dreamtime story and a popular children’s book – which is lighter.’

The course is aimed at both indigenous and non-indigenous students.

‘Younger people are learning more about their own culture and identifying with it, and they are wanting to explore it further,’ said Russ.

‘Reading about the stories is one way of learning, but working with characters and developing performance really excites young students. It is through experiencing in the immersion of theatre that we can really get a feeling for the story – it is one of the greatest learning tools that applies well to all the ways we learn whether it is kinesthetic, aural or visual.

‘Some of the characters we will explore are quite cheeky, which will give us a chance to really explore comedy within them.’

NIDA Open’s Making Drama: Aboriginal Perspectives begins on Wednesday 30 May, NIDA Kensington and is available to schools across NSW and Australia. For more details, please visit open.nida.edu.au.