Preserving and Sharing Indigenous Stories for Future Generations

By Heath Chamerski
Koorie Elder Uncle Howard Talgium Edwards.
Image: Uncle Howard Talgium Edwards, filmed by Daniel King (2014). From the Koorie Heritage Trust Oral History Collection.

Listen to Your Elders
Exhibition at Koorie Heritage Trust, Federation Square

In conjunction with the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, the exhibition Listen to Your Elders, hosted by the Koorie Heritage Trust at Federation Square’s Yarra Building, seeks to preserve and share the stories of various Koorie Elders. Sitting down to record their oral histories, Elders from the Koorie community discuss their lives, families and views on a wide range of subjects close to them, including health issues affecting the Koorie community, their experiences in the education system and the issues faced by their communities during and after wartime.

TV screens play these recordings, collected by the Koorie Heritage Trust during the 1980s through to 2016 on loop – the talking heads approach is a disarming and effective way of instantly connecting visitors with those on screen. With each chat running between four and seven minutes, there’s a dozen or so different stories that visitors can don headphones and listen to. No two interviews cover the same ground, and each offers a unique insight into the lives of Australians who understand the importance of sharing their stories for future generations.

The story of Debbie Rose, a Gunditjmara elder from regional Victoria, is particularly moving. Rose discusses how she never knew her father while growing up, but after being reunited with him later in life, made up for lost time and introduced him to her own children. It’s a touching story and you’re quickly swept up in her remarkable family reunion.

Another highlight is the chat with Gary Murray, a proudly multi-clanned elder also from regional Victoria, who tells of how he spent his youth as a football star but then transitioned into activism and community work with indigenous organisations. As he nears retirement, he explains how he has instilled the need to fight for equality and land rights in his many children and grandchildren.

There’s also the story of Laura Bell, also of the Gunditjmara people, from Victoria’s Lake Condah, who recounts the feats of her incredible father Frederick Amos Lovett, a proud Aussie who fought in and survived both World Wars, but wasn’t allowed to enter the local pub for a beer upon his return from battle.

The exhibition is a compact but absorbing insight into the lives of Koorie Elders from South Eastern Australia. The Koorie Heritage Trust’s website also has some extra interviews where you can further immerse yourself in the yarns of some wonderful storytellers.