Raffles is pretty excited when we tell him we’re going to explore a real fort. When we add the bit about him making his very own weapon while he’s there, he’s just about ready to sign up for a job with Border Protection. I’m not sure he’d last long in the job though as he shares his mama’s “bleeding heart hippie” ideals of equality and offering refuge, and rather than “stopping the boats” he’d more likely be whipping up the hungry passengers an omelette and a nice cuppa before joining them for a bit of a chin wag. I so like this kid.
Given our penchant for sipping on the aforementioned hippie juice, one might consider it odd that I’m actively encouraging my child to make a weapon, but the weapon that Raffles will make today is a very special one that has more to do with self-respect, responsibility and connection than with violence. But more on that in a sec…
We’re at Bare Island in Sydney’s La Perouse, named for Comte de La Pérouse, a French navigator who rocked up here just a few days after the first fleet of convicts had arrived in Botany Bay. Luckily for both him and the convicts there was no Border Protection around in those days otherwise they would all have been unceremoniously turfed out on their arses… given their watery arrival.
But I digress, we’re not here to discuss border policy, the arrival of the First Fleet or the fact that had the French only turned up a few days earlier we would all be running around singing Edith Piaf songs, eating croissants for breakfast and wearing Chanel thongs. Bugger. Je ne actually do regrette rien that. I’d quite like a French accent.
Bare Island is both a historic military fort and the host of the wonderful Blak Markets, a monthly market dedicated to Aboriginal crafts, skills and culture. The market raises funds for Aboriginal community programs to assist youth at risk and I implore you from the depths of my soul to take your children. It is fun, entertaining, unique and provides an unsurpassable opportunity for our kids to be exposed to and learn about local indigenous culture while helping Aboriginal youth become proud and resilient through that culture.
Beyond great market stalls showcasing everything from Aboriginal art and handicrafts to homewares and fashion, visitor’s can enjoy mouth-watering bush tucker inspired food, Indigenous entertainment and witness a traditional smoking ceremony where native plants are burnt, producing smoke to spiritually heal, purify and ward off negativity.
If you like things more hands on, there are bush tucker tours, a Catch N Cook kids fishing tour and great workshops with traditional Aboriginal teachers who’ll pass on the knowledge that has been passed on to them for generations.
Raffles is fairly preoccupied with eating his way through every one of the amazing food stalls in the courtyard. He goes back for seconds of the “deadly dumplings’, delicious chicken dumplings with warrigal greens served in a bowl of chicken broth, and the barbecued Kanagroo skewers.
But it’s time to make that weapon I mentioned at the beginning of my ramblings… a spear to be precise. The Spear Making workshop with Dean Kelly of Warada Kinship is not only hands on but quite spiritual. Dean takes his culture very seriously and loves to share a way of life he says “was given to him by the old people”. Dean explains the spear’s history and how it has evolved. How the knowledge of this ancient technology was shared with him by the old people and how it can set the direction for life’s journey.
The spear Raffles will create will uniquely represent him and the hard work is not done for him. Raffles will need to make his spear from scratch. When choosing the trunk of a Gymea Lily (also known as spear lilies) he must choose the one he feels most connected to, the one that fits. Raffles must do the same with the timber spear head (these have been carved already) and he carefully picks each up and studies it until he finds the one that speaks to him.
And then it’s off to work. Manually removing the remaining leaves from the trunk and sanding it back. Painstakingly putting the pieces together and tightly winding twine around his spear-to-be.
While Raffles (and his dad, who is also making a spear today) work away, I take Sugarpuff off for some lemon myrtle lollipops and Davidson plum sherbet and we find a great mini cultural workshop where she too can make something of her own. She chooses to paint and decorate a set of clapping sticks with the lovely local ladies. The hot pink theme she goes for isn’t very authentic but she’s pretty chuffed with her handiwork, as are the lovely ladies who assist.
When we return we find the boys scooping up handfuls of orange goo, made from crushed rock and tree resin, taking only what they need to seal and paint their spears by hand.
All in all they spend two painstaking hours working on their spears. Listening, learning, sharing and connecting.
My son is taught about the importance of taking only what he needs not what he wants from the land. To Aboriginal people, the land has a spiritual connection. It is their mother and they believe that everything is born from her and will return to her. It represents everything that is needed for living and they take from it only what they need to survive… a kind, responsible and sustainable way of living that I’m thrilled my son is being exposed to.
Raffles, who I swear is about to actually burst with pride, is now the owner of his very own handmade spear and generations of knowledge that has been passed on to him by Dean.
My little boy has learned so much more than just how to make a weapon, he has learned respect, patience and responsibility and he will take that with him along with his spear… which he can use to stir the next batch of mama’s Kool Aid.
Blak Markets at Bare Island is open 10.30am-5pm on the 1st Sunday of every month. Workshops and tours range in price and entry to Bare Island, usually only open for tours, is $2 per person, with children under 5 free. http://www.sydneyaboriginaltours.com.au