A Foodbank Reflection on For Our Elders

The 2023 NAIDOC Week theme

NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on Earth and the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year the theme for NAIDOC Week is For Our Elders.

Some of our nutritionists have been lucky enough over the last 12 years to have travelled to the Pilbara providing nutrition education which has made real impacts on communities since the program started. 

Kalyisah, one of our nutritionists, says that two-way learning is an experience they have all been lucky enough to experience out in communities. In each trip we teach nutrition and cook together, and we also learn a lot about the local community. All of our participants, young and old, tell us in conversation about their culture and traditional methods, the land, bush foods and flora, and ways to tailor our work appropriately.

WA Foodbank WA NAIDOC Week For Our Elders

Over the years from travelling out to the Pilbara we’ve come to learn more about the roles that elders have in their communities and families. There is an importance of community elders that is deeply respected within the social setting and amongst visitors alike. We have seen how they help preserve their traditional life and knowledge. The decisions they make are made with intent to support this – in the decisions around education at school, for example, where students are taught literacy and numeracy so they can excel in school into careers in adulthood, while still also learning about traditional life.   

We also see how elders’ decisions are the final decisions made across all parts of community decisions, for the better of the community.   

Because we have been providing nutrition education to remote community schools, we have been accepted well into the community because of our contributions to education, and School Breakfast Program food, for example – both of which contribute to the overall wellbeing of children and young people, and therefore the community.

It is evident that elders are knowledge holders. One of our nutritionists in the Pilbara recalls that when doing training with KJ Rangers (education and cooking), a well-known elder joined them to explain the importance of a bush food that they had just collected with KJ Rangers. This plant had healing properties – in teas and for cuts and wounds, to protect the body. She shared the name of the plant. But this was only a small part of the amount of cultural knowledge she knew.  The experience was an amazing one. 

There have been many trips which hold special memories for us such as on-country trips with Martu women where the team cooked our recipes over fire, by the Kalgan River. Sessions like this maintain a strong community between the women. 

Another that holds a special place for our nutritionists was a trip in 2020. This particular playgroup specifically for Martu women and children took place on Friday where they arrange an outdoor session.

All participants are picked up from their communities around Newman by the YMCA bus and driven half an hour out of town near the Kalgan River. Children are supervised playing by the river whilst the women assist in preparing food. Although no formal nutrition education could be delivered, this was an opportunity to observe and yarn with the carers and adapt recipes to suit the environment and group.  

World Vision staff were highly commendable towards our willingness to be involved and the flexibility required in this situation. 

We are able to work with elders during Food Sensations for Parents programs in remote communities like Jigalong, where we delivered a program with Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa Families, supported by WA Country Health Service. Two elders attended the program, they were very engaged and excited about the recipes we provided and cooked.  

This was an amazing showcase of a life cycle, children and their parents attending our program, along with the elders 

We pay our respects to the elders past, present and emerging across all our Nations and we pay homage to them. 

Read about the 2023 NAIDOC Week theme