3rd April 2017

Yala Gari x WSU's Pathways to Dreaming

By Kirsty Malasev

On Friday 24th March I was given the opportunity to go to Western Sydney University with the Aboriginal poet Lorna Munro for a program called Pathways to Dreaming. Aboriginal students from various schools were invited to spend the day at WSU.

During a recent yarn with Lorna she insightfully pointed out that calling these students and ourselves “Aboriginal”– Lorna is a Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi woman and I’m a Darug woman – is a disservice. Calling us “Aboriginal” results in overlooking the fact that there are indeed over 200 language groups and they’re all unique.

WSU is on Dharawal land, a place where massacres occurred and still to this day there are live descendants of people who were murdered on Dharawal land. Using the Yala Gari resource that Lorna breathed into existence last year, we looked on in awe and in joy as we gathered on Dharawal land and Lorna inspired teenagers to acknowledge that their journey with language is one that will never end. Lorna confessed that when her language journey began she learnt to say the names of body parts and bodily functions first. As you can imagine every teenager was an avid fan of this admission from Lorna. After the hysterical chuckles from the students faded, Lorna pointed out that the language journey begins when we’re young and that this journey never ends. We’re on an unending pathway of learning.

Lorna shined a torch on the reality that language is around us every day and gave the students a list of place names.  The names of these places were listed with their meanings next to them. The word “Wollongong” in Dharawal language means ‘sound of the sea.’ Lorna, the wise and wonderful soul that she is, knows that the ideal program would never end and that language is not just language, but a way of thinking and being. As we listened to Lorna read her poetry in Wiradjuri and then switch back to speaking in English it was blatantly clear that it took a few moments for Lorna to realign her very being after speaking, thinking and being in the realm of Wiradjuri. As Lorna unravelled the power of language for each of us prickly goose-bumps erupted on our bodies and in the room itself.

Yala Gari means “speak the truth” which is exactly what Lorna did. Lorna “speaking the truth” awarded her instantaneous respect from every single teenager she met on the day. She told them that she doesn’t know everything about language and that she can’t teach language to everyone – but a churning in my tummy believes that given the right support Lorna could indeed teach everyone in Australia about the importance of language. Lorna’s presence in a room casts an extraordinary spell. Her knowledge of the crucial creature of language gives audiences a soothing and inspiring embrace and a leg-buckling right hook to the chin of one’s mind at the same time. Spending time with Lorna makes it impossible to forget the precious knowledge she shares. Say these words out loud right now: Bennelong, Barangaroo and Pemulwuy. If you don’t know what they mean you’ll need to look them up and allow your own pathway to continue.


Kirsty Malasev is the Manager of Poetic Learning at Red Room Poetry.

Kirsty is a Darug woman and high school English/Drama teacher. Kirsty has two degrees from the University of Sydney - a Bachelor of Arts with a double major (Aboriginal Studies/English) and a Bachelor of Teaching. In 2006 Governor Marie Bashir acknowledged Kirsty’s work as a motivational speaker with an award for Outstanding Voluntary Service. Kirsty credits her experience as an actor, writer and director to the Art Umbrella School of Performing Arts and is currently working on her first collection of non-fiction stories.

Lorna Munro is a poet commissioned by Red Room Poetry, and creator of Yala Gari.

Lorna Munro is a proud, young Wiradjuri/ Gamilaroi woman. This dynamic and upcoming writer and poet calls the Redfern/Waterloo area home. She has been strongly influenced and nurtured by her activist parents, and mentored by many other members of the Black Power Movement, who she affectionately refers to as her Aunties and Uncles. She has been an active member of her community since the age of thirteen and has travelled to New Zealand and South America for cultural exchange and youth leadership programs... Read more »