Every year NAIDOC Week encourages us to rejoice in the rich culture of Australia’s first peoples, to reflect upon their uniqueness and to ponder thousands of years of their history. This year’s NAIDOC theme is We stand on sacred ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate.
A new exhibition at Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre entitled First Peoples, immerses visitors in a time capsule of thousands of years of indigenous existence and contribution in the state of Victoria.
On a cold winter’s afternoon I met up with Melbourne Museum volunteer Janet Kidd (pictured) who showed me around the Exhibition. While watching audio-visuals of fire and tool making, we had travelled back to the dreamtime in the Victorian bush. Janet pressed some buttons on a large map and we listened to indigenous languages spoken in Victoria.
“Visitors have seemed very impressed with the exhibits, with the way the Exhibition’s set up and the story it tells. It just seems to have a very positive effect on people. We get a lot of overseas visitors who say they never realized what a rich history the indigenous Australians have,” said Janet.\
Janet’s passion for what she does highlights the fact that a volunteering role can be a person’s dream job.
A volunteer at Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre for nearly 15 years, Janet has witnessed quite a few changes. She got the voluntary gig because of her special interest and studies in indigenous history.
“I was interested in learning more. I just thought it was an important part of Australia’s history and it wasn’t really being treated as so. I wanted to be involved, to contribute to making people become more aware of this important indigenous history,” said Janet.
Janet goes on a journey
Lionel RoseLike many young women in the early 1960s, she began her working life as a typist in Melbourne then worked her way into a senior position that meant in her words “I typed letters instead of boring envelopes and filing.”
After moving into a mining industry job in Sydney, she decided to take the pilgrimage of many of Australia’s young people of the mod generation and fly to England. It was the Swinging Sixties and London was the world hot spot of with-it fashion and pop music. She signed on as an office temp to pay the way for a working holiday that lasted four years. In 1973 she returned to Melbourne “to try to settle down.”
But there was no containing Janet. Soon she was off again, her wandering spirit drawing her on to Sydney and then a job in a mining company in the outback Northern Territory town of Nhulunby.
“For four years I worked and went to wonderful parties and danced the night away in the warm tropics. Eventually I’d had enough of the semi-nomadic lifestyle and came back to Melbourne,” reflected Janet.
Settling down to study
Janet had settled but her experiences in the Northern Territory fired up her enthusiasm for indigenous culture. After completing an arts degree at Melbourne University in 2000 majoring in indigenous history, she was eager to start something new. Around this time the Melbourne Museum had just opened and one of her friends saw that they were looking for volunteers and suggested ‘why don’t you go along and see what its all about!’
“So I did and was accepted into the first intake of volunteers as a general volunteer posted around the Museum helping visitors to enjoy the experience,” said Janet.
Her dream volunteering role
We continued strolling through the First Peoples Exhibition that has an amazing effect on the mind and emotions redirecting the psyche from modern life to ancient Victorian swamplands, beach and bush.
“There’s somehow a bit of a misconception that Australia was relatively empty of people when the Europeans first arrived,” said Janet.
DisplayShe enjoys showing visitors around, meeting a variety of people especially inquisitive children at this, the largest facility in Melbourne where visitors can gain a better understanding of Aboriginal culture in Victoria.
“What I learned at uni and also what I’ve learnt from being at the Museum is don’t be judgmental. Keep your mind open to learning more. The information here is so in depth and eclectic and there’s so much of it on different levels whether it be arts, culture, heritage and history,” said Janet.
The First Peoples Exhibition is staged at a time today when attitudes are changing and evolving to become more inclusive. It’s a timely presentation of memories and moments in a rich multi-layered culture and heritage that carries up to the modern day.
“I see a history and a culture that stretches back at least 40 thousand years and its still relevant today,” said Janet.