A deeply personal mission.
Many people have ideas about what life in an Aboriginal community is like. They're often negative. Wiradjuri man and ANU historian Dr Lawrence Bamblett paints a different picture. He grew up on Erambie mission, and it's where he still lives today.
“There are things that aren't so good obviously, but all communities have that," Laurie says. "Not all communities are defined by them in the way that we are. But for those of us who are inside the community, we see a different world – one where everybody cares about you.”
Laurie started a reading program that has greatly improved childhood literacy within his community. He went on to do a PhD and become a teacher, but realised that in the course of successfully integrating into western society, he'd begun to lose touch with his roots.
“The way that I spoke when I went to university wasn't really conducive to that because it was confusing students,” he says. “I used a mixture of Wiradjuri and English, and what they call Aboriginal-English. I eventually got out of that and I changed the way I speak.”
“For a minority group, trying to push back against assimilation, those little day to day things become big things. So I feel like I've been disconnected from my community in those ways – I was so busy going out giving lectures and talking and teaching outside the community that I'm not passing it on inside the community in the way that I was meant to be.”
He has found himself torn between two worlds: western society and academic life, which he thoroughly enjoys, and living more closely connected to his culture. Laurie recalled the words of the late and legendary Aboriginal activist Isabel Coe that they're not changing the system – the system is changing them.
“Maybe I just need to accept that we can't change the system. It really does change us. But I'm not there yet. I'm not willing to concede that yet. I'm still trying to find a place where we can have one foot in each world.”
Laurie Bamblett is a Wiradjuri historian, teaching at the Australian National University, who uses history as a tool of community development projects at his home community, Erambie Mission. His research interests include cultural resurgence and the ways that representations of identity affect engagement between Aboriginal communities and mainstream institutions and services.
The theme music for This Academic’s Life is “Snow Blower” by Flower Crown.
Other music used in this episode: “Intermezzo” by Podington Bear.
This Academic’s Life is a production of the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences. It’s produced by Evana Ho. The production assistant for this episode was Brandon Tan.
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