We all know Macquarie University is a special place to work and study. But you may not be aware of the important sites for Dharug people that can be found across the campus.
A new Indigenous Studies unit sheds light on the places and practices that characterise the local area and its original inhabitants.
The new unit Dharug Country: Presences, Places and People is the first localised Indigenous Studies course in Australia.
Professor Bronwyn Carlson, Head of the Department of Indigenous Studies, said she wanted to develop the unit in response to this gap.
“We often talk about Indigenous people and embedding Indigenous perspectives, but nowhere in the country is anything that focuses specifically on the people whose lands our institutions sit on,” she says. “Often we are so busy thinking about the world in global terms that we forget that it always originates at the local level.”
Importantly, the content of the unit was developed by Dharug people including Dr Jo Rey, a Dharug woman who has just completed her PhD at Macquarie.
Ancient ways of learning
Dr Rey will be the first to teach the unit, as part of a commitment to having this local knowledge passed on by Dharug teachers. Replacing traditional lectures and tutorials will be Indigenous yarning circles, an ancient way of sharing knowledge.
“For students, this will shift their comfort zone,” says Professor Carlson. “You’re actually sitting there with somebody who has ancestral links to this very place that you’re studying on, for thousands of years.
“The yarning circle is an intimate space where the relationship and separation between lecturer and student vanishes.
“It’s a unique way of teaching for universities, but they are very old ways of teaching.”
Discovering Dharug places
As part of the unit, students will spend time on-Country (Ngurra) doing experiential learning activities and learning about the history of Dharug people.
In a built-up area like Macquarie, sacred places for Indigenous people can be hard to spot, but Professor Carlson emphasises the importance of recognising the continuing connection to these sites:
“The unit covers how Dharug people care for Country when the country is basically a city. It doesn’t matter what’s built on top of the land, the connection to place is still the same.”
The students will make use of a new app developed by Walanga Muru that provides a guided tour of campus’ cultural landmarks and the significant Dharug sites across Macquarie. Staff, students and visitors will also be able to access the free app in Session 2 (sounds like the perfect way to spend a lunch time walk!)
A possum skin cloak made by Dr Jo Rey guides students through the themes in the unit on iLearn.
Imagining a shared future
This week (7-14 July) is NAIDOC Week, with this year’s theme Voice. Treaty. Truth. focussed on the concept of a shared future between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Professor Carlson says she believes the new unit will allow students to recognise their own impact on Country and local Dharug people and their role in working towards a more equitable future.
“This unit will get students to pause and think for a minute about the impact of themselves, the University and everything that’s happened in the last 231 years on the people and places that have always been here.
“Part of Indigenous culture is also inclusiveness, so by being in that yarning circle you become part of the community and therefore you have roles and responsibilities with Dharug people to help care for Country.”