After many hours of hard work, three hand carved and painted totem poles now take pride of place in the Richmond Football Club Landcare Garden at Yarram Secondary College. The poles represent some of the totems and traditional markings of the Koorie people of South East Australia.
They are also a symbol of the positive community partnerships which have been fostered during the two-year development of the native garden, where students, staff and volunteers have put in hundreds of work hours.
The 2017 totem pole project is part of the Year 11 Applied Learning Program – Social Diversity Unit -where students have been learning about indigenous cultures with the men from Wulgunngo Ngalu Learning Place. Individual totems and symbols were selected to represent the cultural diversity amongst the indigenous participants. Totems are often animals or plants and are an important part of the spiritual relationship indigenous people have with the land, animals and plants.
This program involved two visits to Wulgunngo Ngalu at Won Wron. On the first visit we had a Welcome to Country with a traditional smoking-ceremony and didgeridoo playing, followed by a tour of the centre, story-telling and dancing. After lunch the students and men participated in a hands-on workshop to prepare the Yellow Stringybark totem poles for wood carving. The students were taught how to remove and peel off the bark from the poles using a hand axe.
Over the next few months the poles were cured; totem outlines were sketched, then carved onto the hardwood poles using hand tools and an electric wood carver. The final stages involved painting the individual totems and symbols with ochre in the colours of the Aboriginal flag -red, black and yellow.
Description of the carved totems:
Boorun the Pelican is a totem of the Gunnai/Kurnai. The first of the Gunnai/Kurnai people were Boorun, the Pelican man and Tuk, the Musk Duck Woman.
Bunjil the wedge tail Eagle is a creator spirit for many Aboriginal language groups including the Wurundjerri from Melbourne, one of the Kulin Nation.
Gugaa the Goanna is an important totem of the Wiradjuri, central NSW.
Badja Bayaderra the long neck turtle is a totem of the Yorta Yorta people, central top of Victoria.
Gabadj the Black Cockatoo is a totem of the Gunditjmara people, South West Victoria.
Biaime the Rainbow Serpent is a fairly universal Aboriginal creator spirit across Australia.
Traditional markings of the Aboriginal Koories are parallel line work including zigzag and diamonds.
“The school garden has become an important learning space for the local community. It has helped connect and challenge both students and volunteers in an outdoor environment – where problem solving and team work are essential. We have created an important wildlife corridor by restoring local habitat using indigenous plants. Over 20 species of birds have been counted in the garden during the Aussie Backyard Bird Count for BirdLife Australia. There are also lots of frogs living there as well now,” said Samantha Monks volunteer and school parent.