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“I got brave and joined the project”

Paul Memmott on taking the plunge to get involved in Ngarrngga

When I was young, at primary school, there was absolutely nothing in the curriculum on Aboriginal people. And when I got to university, again there was nothing! I initially studied architecture and for the history of architecture we started in the Mediterranean, went from Egypt to Minoan to Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, Rococo, Baroque and over to New York to finish with the first skyscraper. So it was a very Eurocentric education.

Since then I’ve been trying to reform the educational process at all levels, from primary to adult education.

I did my PhD in the 1970s entitled ‘Lardil Properties of Place’ which working with Lardil Elders on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. When I graduated, rather than doing the normal academic thing of publishing, we would do a teaching kit for Grade 8 students. We managed to get a grant from the Curriculum Development Centre and we produced a kit called, ‘A Changing Culture, the People of Mornington Island’. The aim of that was not only to deal with that understanding of the traditional society, but also to provide non-Aboriginal students an understanding of how contact with Europeans and colonisation had caused Aboriginal people to undergo a lot of change and in many cases, suffering.

I said ‘Yes’ to getting involved with Ngarrngga because I’ve had a long life of trying to influence education. This was an opportunity for another level of participation.

I had hesitations about joining the Expert Advisory Panel at first because it was a group of First Nations Knowledge Holders and me being the odd whitefella was a bit of an anomaly. But I’ve had a long relationship with [fellow EAP member] Marcia Langton over many decades, so I got brave and joined the project.

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