When we decided to visit Australia, I wanted to incorporate a lesson in Aboriginal culture and history into our itinerary. But it was imperative that the education we received came through the prism of the people themselves. I found a few aboriginal exhibits in museums but I was interested in something a bit more independent…a FUBU (for us, by us) version, if you will.
After a bit of research, I stumbled upon this review of the Muru Mittigar Aboriginal Cultural and Education Centre, where the curriculum was described as an “authentic” aboriginal experience. I checked out the organization’s website and was impressed by their origins and the extensive educational program they provided. I emailed the program’s coordinator and scheduled our visit.
Muru Mittigar is Darug (an Aboriginal tribe and language from the Penrith area) for “Pathway to Friends.” The Cultural Center was established in 1999 to promote awareness about and preserve the culture, customs, and traditions of the Darug people. Muru Mittigar has been in consistent operation for the last 15 years.
The Cultural Center offers three curricula: Early Childhood, Primary and High school, and Teachers’ Professional Development. There are full and half-day programs and they all include a culture talk, art class, and boomerang throwing tutorials.
But first, Getting There…
Muru Mittigar is located in Penrith, which is on the foothills of the Blue Mountains, and about an hour’s drive from Sydney. It’s relatively easy to get there by cab or Uber but those options weren’t available as I explained here. Getting to the cultural center proved to be a bit of an Odyssey for us. We took a bus from Sydney and got off too soon, walked a bit and got lost in a residential area, it started to rain storm and we realized that we had to walk another mile to get to the location.
All in all, it took us a little more than 2 hours to get there. But, believe it or not, the experience was so phenomenal that it was worth the Odyssey it took to get there. If you decide to take your small children, I would highly recommend that you reserve a private taxi equipped with child safety seats. There’s a list of companies included in How to Get Around Sydney with Small Children.
When we finally arrived (about 45 minutes late) the boomerang lessons were already underway. A bevy of local school-aged children, who were there on a field trip, were patiently waiting for their turn to toss the boomerang. The boomerang lessons took place outside in a patchy area reminiscent of a baseball field. Nets surrounded the field to ensure that any errant boomerangs could be retrieved later. The instructors seemed pleasantly surprised to see us. They later explained that they don’t get many visits from African Americans. (I hope this post helps to change that.)
We attended the full-day program. The subjects and instructors changed throughout the day like a typical school day. Most of the activities were interactive which was perfect for my kiddos who were a little bit younger than most of the children present that day.
During the boomerang lesson, we each took turns trying to throw the boomerang so that it would return to us. I failed miserably. While we were each taking turns, the instructor explained quite a bit about how boomerangs are made and their uses in Aboriginal life. After the lesson, we were led into a silver-colored building made of corrugated metal. The children and teachers filled the chairs in the main room and some smaller children sat on the floor.
Aboriginal Art Class
We received a lesson on Aboriginal art and the meanings of the symbols commonly used. Each student was then given a legend of symbols along with a small canvas, watercolor paint, and brushes to create their own Aboriginal art.
Song and Dance
The song and dance portion included a talk about the origins and use of didgeridoo. The instructor gave us a didgeridoo lesson and called on some students to give it a try. This was the highlight of the day for my husband and kiddos.
The instructors encouraged the students to participate in all the lessons.
After that, we took a short break for lunch. While the schoolchildren ate their bagged lunches and played outside, we remained inside. This provided the perfect opportunity for us to have an intimate discussion with the instructors and staff. We asked a number of questions about their experiences as Aboriginal people which they gladly answered. Then they started to ask questions of their own. They were eager to learn about life as a person of color in America. It was truly a remarkable exchange.
History and Culture Talk
After lunch, all of the instructors took turns explaining the cultural and linguistic differences between some Aboriginal Tribes and how their geographic location influenced the differences. The staff members also explained the importance of dream stories and walkabouts throughout their history. It was captivating.
Question and Answer
After the history and culture talk, the instructors allowed for a question and answer session. They answered all of the questions asked which provided even more insight into their lives and the lives of their ancestors.
The Unofficial After-party
At the end of the program, the school children returned to their buses but we were invited to stay and finish the conversation we started during lunch. One instructor gave us detailed directions on how to get back to Sydney faster, after learning about our ordeal to get to the center. She even offered us a ride to the train station. Another car with some staff members followed along to bid us adieu. They handed us gifts and we hugged as we parted. I had the distinct sense that this experience (although the first of many in Sydney) was not capable of being topped and it wasn’t. The day we spent at the cultural center was the highlight of our entire trip to the Outback.
In sum, the enthusiasm, knowledge, professionalism, and overall hospitality of the instructors and staff at Muru Mittigar were unparalleled. The experience far surpassed any of my expectations. We not only received a top-notch education about the history and culture of the Aboriginal people, but we also made deep connections with the instructors and staff. We arrived at Muru Mittigar as strangers and were truly transformed into friends.
If you’re planning a trip to Sydney, add this place to the top of your itinerary.
Name of Venue: Muru Mittigar Cultural and Education Centre at Rouse Hill House and Farm
Address: 356 Annangrove Road, Rouse Hill, NSW 2155
When: Monday to Friday, 8:30 am-4:30 pm
Price: Approximately, $16.50 USD per person