Yarning Up: Discussing the importance of education and culture with Uncle Phil

Updated: Aug 19, 2018




Having worked in Aboriginal Affairs for 36 years, Gomeroi Elder and proud patron of the Bawurra Foundation, Uncle Phil Duncan has represented the rights and interests of Aboriginal communities to ensure they are engaged with issues that impact them in a culturally appropriate manner. He is also the Aboriginal Cultural Training Coordinator at Walanga Muru, Macquarie University's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander student engagement and strategy office.


In the first edition to our 'Yarning Up' series where we interview exceptional Indigenous individuals, we caught up with Uncle Phil to talk about the importance of literacy, culture and his first hand experience on the impact of the Bawurra Foundation. 


Nick: Why do you love the Bawurra Foundation?


Uncle Phil:  The thing that jumped out to me about Bawurra was about how young people, like-minded young people, had a common platform and vision about wanting to make a difference with Aboriginal youth, particularly in the area of education. The key thing was that it wasn't just Aboriginal people involved, they were focusing on the issue through a multicultural lens in terms of the people involved. I also just love the product, I love what it's doing, I love the direction and I love the focus.


Nick: What's the story behind why you started liaising and working with the foundation?


Uncle Phil: I just saw the value. I grew up in a remote, isolated community, and instead of being in a classroom at the age of sixteen and setting myself up for the future I was out looking after sheep. If I would have had the opportunity to be connected to my culture throughout my educational years, I think would have progressed to a higher level of employment opportunities and career prospects. That's the cool thing, I know it's personal, but I see the value in what Bawurra’s aims and objectives are, and we've seen snapshots around the state in the Indigenous communities where that's been successful.


Nick: The Importance and value of culture and Country is very important to you. What does culture mean to you personally?


Uncle Phil: It validates my existence, it validates my way of life, knowing my songline, knowing my totems, knowing my place within the family structure, knowing my cultural responsibilities. Culture is what we are about. Sometimes it's hard for non-Aboriginal people to digest and understand what is intangible for them, and that is basically our spiritual connection, our cultural beliefs, practices and philosophies and way of life. My cultural beliefs create the platform of my life.


Nick: You have gone out on country often and seen the Kindles and the product and the digital library and see its’ effectiveness first hand with the kids.  What's your experience of seeing that and seeing the Indigenous youth connect with the library?


Uncle Phil:  Firstly both of my granddaughters have had a chance to experience the library for themselves. You have to be there to see their eyes. Then watch the interest. My two granddaughters are very busybodies, and when I invited Alex and Jesse (directors of the Bawurra Foundation) to meet my family and show the girls the library, it was a real testament to the value of the product. Just watching my granddaughters, and listening to their questions and how engaged when they were listening to our families songline, and then going through and looking and reading to them the other stories based on lore, which is part of our culture, it was a testament to the product.

Also, listening to some of the other testimonies coming back from Toomelah, Moree and Tingha from staff, Elders, and more importantly the kids, and knowing that that this is a product that can take the anxiety and their anger from a hundred to zero, by giving them something that they can be a part of and be involved with. It gives them a sense of value. It gives them a sense of place, gives them a sense of belonging. That sense of belonging comes from listening to the Elders, their own knowledge brokers, their own knowledge keepers and our own community leaders.

That is something that I think the educational system needs to sit up and take notice of. It is something that can keep a young person in the education system from becoming another statistic. It's how you use it, when you use it, and the quality of what's in there; the quality of the content. That can create the difference and that's what I see.


Nick: So, continuing on with your point about making this part of the educational system, what are your hopes for the future of the Foundation as you get more involved going forward?


Uncle Phil: The fundamental processes that Bawurra has been really good at is building their champions. Their list of champions, from having MP's and Opposition Leaders in Parliament, to academics, to school teachers, and the big one: community leaders. Having them use the tool and the library is a game changer for people. We don't want our kids to become statistics. Those list of champions are already allowing Bawurra to be connected to other networks too. To me, the community stuff is where the future value, or the real value of Bawurra is. Yeah, we've got our champions here and we've got our champions in government, but champions in the community is where the real value is and where the real change will be. 

We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of this land; and pay our respects to Elders past, present and future.

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