Bunjilaka Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia, an edited version is below.

Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre

By Maya Borom

The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is living cultural space within the Melbourne Museum that allows visitors a glimpse of the wondrous cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians. As the only living Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia, it provides an important educational and hands-on experience for those wanting to learn more about Indigenous culture.

One of the highlights of the cultural centre is the First Peoples exhibit. With the decline in usage of Aboriginal languages, coupled with the fact that everyday access to Indigenous languages is limited, the exhibition engages and teaches visitors about Indigenous languages in the hope of ensuring their survival.

A collaboration between the Melbourne Museum, Koori and Indigenous community groups, a key driving factor has been the participation of the Yylendj Group of Elders, a community reference group tasked with sharing their collective knowledge with visitors to the centre.

The welcome area, referred to as ‘Wominjeka’, offers tactile experiences through active listening and touching, allowing visitors to hear firsthand ancient languages and thus be exposed to a linguistic heritage outside of the common (predominately English language) experience in urban Australian landscapes. Visitors are immediately immersed in the rich cultural heritage of indigenous languages – a unique experience for most visitors to the centre.  This is not just an auditory experience: visitors are also encouraged to actively engage with parts of the exhibition and become familiar with commonly used tools and artifacts. These experiences are further supplemented by digital media explanations of what they do or were used for.

The centre also provides a space for temporary exhibitions. The Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children exhibit features the Yorta Yorta cloak (1800s), which is one of only two possum cloaks that the Museum has in their collection. As possum skin coats were traditionally used by the Koorie people as signifiers to identity and status,  the centre initiated workshops with indigenous children in order to re-connect them with their cultural and spiritual heritage. The result is a display of photography, artwork and the creation of possum cloaks much like their ancestors have done for over 2,000 years. You’ll need to hurry, as this temporary exhibition is due to close on the 24th of February and is well worth seeing.

The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre also houses the Birrarung Gallery which collaborates with community groups to host three exhibitions per year as well as the Milarri Garden which offers visitors the chance to explore Indigenous flora and their myriad uses. It’s a wonderful multi-faceted space which allows visitors to explore the relationship that Indigenous culture has with the land, and it’s flora and fauna and ties the centre’s experiences together nicely. The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a must see for visitors to the Melbourne Museum as if offers a cultural experience unlike any other in Australia.

Find out more about Bunjilaka on the Melbourne Museum website.

Easy Like Water Film Review

This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia, an edited version is below.


By Maya Borom

Easy Like WaterBangladesh is a country under siege by nature: it is where three of the world’s biggest rivers converge with often disastrous consequences; where the Himalayas to the north of the country are melting and sending torrents of water into rural villages; and where the south battles against  rising seas. It is at the coal face of climate change.

The water disrupts everything, including schooling, and documentary film maker Glenn Baker shows how entrepreneurial thought has created floating schools for children who may otherwise miss out on schooling due to flooding. During the flooding season some schools are closed for 3-4 months and in other areas destroyed completely so children can miss out on a substantial chunk of learning – such gaps in education may be felt in later life where access to education often equates to stable and professional employment.

The film follows a local architect, Mohammed Rezwan, who decided not to follow the path of his peers designing mansions for the wealthy, but to design and build boats for children were unable to get to school, so that school could come to them. Made with repurposed material, the ships offer a floating classroom and an opportunity for the community to remain engaged with education as well as with themselves; not only is it a school but it is also a vehicle for the community to come together to try to provide alternatives to offset the destruction that climate change has on their way of life.

As well as providing education for rural school children displaced from their school by flooding, boats also offer a floating health care resource, essential when an area could be cut off from the nearest hospital or clinic for 3-4 months of the year. Expanding his model to include learning centres complete with computers and internet access,Rezwan has built an education system that rivals state-run schools, inadvertently creating issues with local government. The ability of the boats to provide floating schools, libraries, access to computers and, more importantly, equal access to education for both genders, is slowly breaking down the entrenched socio-cultural and economic norms.

However the issue is not merely access to rural schools because of flooding, but the greater issue is climate change and its impact on the country as a whole. Baker illustrates how massive swathes of the country has disappeared beneath swelling river and sea tides, taking with them people’s livelihoods and homes. Thousands of people live on dirt embankments that can be swept away in the next storm or flood. Loss of land also means loss of habitat to tigers, which seek food in neighbouring villages or wait for villagers to venture into the mangroves in search of fish.

The film captures the situation that Bangladesh now finds itself in, not through excessive debate about climate policy and global action (or non-action), but through raw and honest interviews with people directly affected by it. There is discussion as to industrialised nations responsibility to take on climate refugees, and it’s easy to make a compelling argument when climate change is driven by manufacturing and industrialisation, and countries such as Bangladesh watch helplessly as land and livelihood is swept away. As the effects of climate change reverberate throughout the world, it’s one argument that will be repeated over and over again.

Easy Like Water illustrates how one person is able to effect change in local communities through sustainable practices such as solar energy, volunteerism and the willingness to see outside of the box. However it also illustrates the vulnerability of communities against something that they have no control over – the environment. The film raises important questions about responses to climate change, questions whose answers and solutions come not from government, but from grassroots organisations and social entrepreneurs.

Easy Like Water is showing as part of the Transitions Film Festival on 18 February.

View the festival trailer: