Natalie Patterson is one of a generation of young Aboriginal people who have been forced to grow up very quickly as a legacy of colonisation and long term child abuse. She left school aged 15 and now works at Western Plains Recovery Services, a program that works to overcome trauma through Indigenous drumming. “I come from a culture where it is unheard of for a child to stay out of school for more than a couple of years – if you are living on the country and to stay in school is very difficult.”
The people Natalie loves the most in this world are her friends. “They are the reason why I keep me in good spirits and smiling everyday”.
Three of her childhood friends recently took their own lives. Now, she runs drums in town and people from nearby communities come to learn and participate in Indigenous drumming.
“Whenever someone needs to come out and open up a bit more it’s just that time to be able to practice and know that you can. You can be a difference maker. You can make a difference and not feel alone.”
Natalie’s life story is also a lesson to others. “I would love to start my own drumming group for the older people so they can learn more about what it is like to live and travel in a society that has treated them so bad and that they don’t have any kind of respect or dignity.”
At the moment, there is only one Indigenous drumming group specifically designed for children. The Pyramid People’s Dja Dja Wurrung Maori Collective.
(Program coordinator of Pyramid People’s Dja Dja Wurrung Maori Collective)
‘We actually got to learn from them’
From 4-6 years old a child gets drummed, taught and even taught by the parents of their classmates. This extra structure is known as ‘cliniraging’ and falls into line with an ageing generation of Aboriginal rights campaigners who say that learning from one another to improve their own health is the best way to fight disease, poverty and discrimination in the Aboriginal community.
“When you go to a drumming group you get your birth story told to you, your origins, your grandmother’s history told to you and then as you age you are taught by the drummers.”
But teaching a child to drum early can be challenging and complicated. Some Aboriginal families are reluctant to leave Indigenous culture behind. There’s also strict cultural practice surrounding handing on one’s hip bones which can be damaging and cause physical and emotional harm in young people who want to follow in their elders’ footsteps.
Pamela Hill from Pyramid People’s Dja Dja Wurrung Maori Collective says that caring and providing structure is more important than ever to support young people around the world who struggle with mental health.
“Well we actually got to learn from them that how they grew up, they grew up not knowing their history, how they were treated, how they have changed to change themselves and still be able to have life.”
She says that learning to address mental health while living in a society like Australia can take time.
“No one will really understand unless you do it. We will say well why don’t you know your story? Well, it’s just not that simple. In a way, that is what is happening now because young Aboriginal people are not just silent.”
She believes in role models but in order to have strong Indigenous role models, children need to be made aware of their culture and needed to understand what culture means.
“Aboriginal people need to learn about where we are coming from, what the world around us is like and what is happening today.”