“Uncle Wes, Aunty Edna and Uncle Ally’s words just sat deep in my soul! They want to pass stories to the young kids and the young kids need to learn.”

With those words, one of the latest CuriousWorks recruits summarised what last month’s NgAl Lo Wah Murraytula walk and camp meant to her.

Bee Cruse, a young Cabrogal woman (a clan within Western Sydney’s Darug nation), joined our Curious Creator Adam McPhilbin and Community Director Caitlin Newton-Broad on the walk produced by Moogahlin Performing Arts with CuriousWorks leading on youth engagement.

Over four days in the bush, Bee and Adam helped professional filmmaker Maya Newell and photographer Amanda James document local elders sharing their history, culture and environmental knowledge with a dozen teenagers.

NgAl Lo Wah Murraytula (Darug for “together we share / enjoy”) was one of the first steps in the ‘Connecting to Country’ project, which aims to develop the creative and storytelling skills among First Nations young people in Darug country, while connecting them to the wisdom of community elders and our shared history.

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Since the beginning of the year, CuriousWorks has run filmmaking workshops with young people in Bidwill at FUNPARK. These workshops will continue as we work towards young people combining these new skills with the traditional knowledge they are learning, giving them a future platform to tell their stories from a personal perspective.

Caitlin described being involved in the project as a special honour.

“For the past year, I have been meeting people from the Mt Druitt community working on a deep cultural level to revive and take care of our shared stories − the deep cultural First Nations stories of our land as well as the contemporary history of Sydney and its complex past,” she said.

“Uncle Wes Marne (94) and Aunty Edna Watson (75) are national treasures. They are elders who hold vital community stories and share them with immense generosity.

“All the young people who took part were nominated by mentors, teachers and family members across the community, including one young person coming all the way from Redfern! They were proud, respectful and totally engaged in the walk. From the moment they were clapped onto country by Aunty Edna and Lily Shearer, they were drinking in spectacular Darug country and songlines; at night sharing a yarn round the fire; and at sunrise greeting grandfather sun.

“I look forward to working with these young people to tell their own stories of Western Sydney, and sharing that with everyone in the community over the coming few years.”

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Bee said she was “blown away” by getting such an opportunity just three months after being introduced to CuriousWorks.

“My heart breaks that some of my own elders don’t speak our Darug language or know our song lines. I was part of the film crew but I was as much a participant of this camp as well. I listened. I learnt. I shared. I danced. All on my own country.

“I am forever grateful for finding Uncle Wes. He’s the storyteller I’ve always wanted to look up to. I hope I can be the listener he’s proud to hand his stories to.”

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Adam, an aspiring filmmaker, was excited to join the project to work alongside a professional crew but found the experience went beyond his expectations.

“I had an idea on what to expect but it was totally different, from both a professional and cultural experience.

“Previously I’ve worked on short and feature narrative films so learning about shooting documentaries was new – especially filming out in the bush. As a camera assistant and data wrangler for this project, it was a challenge to ensure the footage and sound we captured was ‘safe’ without film set comforts like running power.

“I learnt quite a few things from Michael Steele (Director of Photography). A lot of DOPs avoid shooting documentaries because they hate not being able to control everything so it was great seeing how he approached that.

“The walk was pretty intense for someone of my fitness but looking out into the distance seeing all those trees, creeks and wildlife was calming but also pretty special to learn about it from the elders’ perspective. I am a very open minded person and enjoy learning about different cultures and their traditions.

“It was great how welcoming everyone was and this experience has changed me forever.”

NgAl Lo Wah Murraytula was funded by the Indigenous Languages and Arts Program (Federal Ministry for the Arts) and Arts NSW. Connecting to Country workshops are funded by the Matana Foundation for Young People.

Connecting to Country is a collaboration between CuriousWorks, Moogahlin Performing Arts and esteemed local elders. It receives solid community support through FUNPARK, The Learning Ground, Community Junction, Darug Custodians Aboriginal Corporation and the Mt Druitt Reconciliation Group.

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Photos by Amanda James (as watermarked) and used with the kind permission of Moogahlin Performing Arts. Other images by Bee Cruse, Missy Sargeant and Adam McPhilbin.