The question of what you want to be when you grow up is something most kids have a ready answer for, but it’s not every day that a primary school student gets cracking on their career at the age of seven.
But that is just what Wiradjuri girl Penelope Towney has done, making her first film at an age when many kids are still figuring out how to use the remote.
Surely there is no better way for Kids News to celebrate this week’s Aboriginal Children’s Day than by talking to the Year 2 student at Waniora Public School about her achievement and inspirations.
Penelope’s debut short film – The Land We’re On, with Penelope Towney – is coming soon to NITV and was made so that fellow Australian students and their families can understand a little more about First Nations* culture through her eyes.
“In the film, I perform an Acknowledgement of Country for the Dharawal and Yuin Nations, where I live in the Illawarra,” Penelope said. “Then I explain the difference between Welcomes to Country* and Acknowledgements of Country* and why they are such an important and respectful* First Nations tradition to carry on.”
Memorising* a speech to deliver to camera was the most challenging part of the filming process, according to Penelope.
“It took many days … but I ended up learning the whole thing and performed it without palm cards – almost 400 words,” she said.
Knowing her family tree and understanding their many relationships to country is a favourite subject of Penelope’s and she is a proud member of the Wiradjuri Nation, its NSW borders running from north of Gilgandra all the way down to the Snowy Mountains. On her grandmother’s side, Penelope is Palawa from Pakana country in Tasmania, or Lutruwita in traditional language.
“Nan’s people were originally from around the Bay of Fire’s area, but my nan lives south of Nipaluna, (which is) Hobart.”
The young filmmaker is far from the first in her family to do interesting and challenging things. Her grandfather Graeme “Doongbung” Towney was the first ever First Nations person to travel down to the Antarctic Circle, studying the wildlife as a ranger.
“My family are very smart and strong and proud of their culture and I learn a lot about where I come from, from them,” Penelope said.
Many examples of First Nations music, art and storytelling are helping to develop and inform Penelope’s filmmaking.
“I like many First Nations musicians, especially Baker Boy, BARKAA and Briggs,” she said. “With my own art, I like creating and telling sand stories and also painting myself up with ochre*.
“My favourite First Nations author is Kirli Saunders. She has a new book out now titled Bindi. She came to my school once, and at the end of her presentation, I got to stand up and share a few words with her in Wiradjuri and Palawa Kani. It made me feel very proud.”
One of Penelope’s favourite Dreaming* stories is the Yorta Yorta yarn, The Frill-Necked Lizard and the Flood, the tale of a lizard who puffs out his frill and creates a flood because he is tired of not being listened to.
“I like this story because it explains that you should really listen to people if they have something important to say,” Penelope said.
Indeed, it is not just place, language and people that hold significance for Penelope – native Australian animals have special meaning too, especially the platypus.
“I really love the platypus,” she said. “My middle name Larila actually means platypus in Palawa Kani. So yeah, I’m Penelope Larila. Or Penelope Platypus.
“I also love the sand goanna, or googa. That is my Wiradjuri totem. I’ve seen them out bush before and I’ve followed their tracks.”
Penelope is even the proud owner of two central bearded dragons.
“I have an adult male dragon named Gadangal, which means ‘lizard’ in Wiradjuri. And an adult female name, Kanaplila Nayri. That means, ‘the good dance’ in Palawa Kani.”
One inspiration for making the film is the Know Your Country campaign, First Nations led and supported by World Vision, which seeks to have a First Nations cultural educator in every Australian primary school.
“I’ve attended a school before where we’ve had First Nations educators,” Penelope said. “There were blackfella kids and whitefella kids, all learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture together.
“It was really deadly and we all loved it. I think there was more understanding between each other too. We need that.”
World Vision First Nations policy adviser and Wiradjuri man, Dr Scott Winch, said that schools were not currently funded to employ local First Nations community members to help teachers, students and schools to fill the current knowledge gap.
“A good primary school education featuring regular, positive relationships with people from the local First Nations community will set all Aussie kids up for lifelong learning, appreciation and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture,” Dr Winch said.
“This is about all Australians knowing and becoming better connected to country. This is an important gift to all Australian students (that) could transform how Australians understand each other and their relationship to this land and the world’s oldest living culture.”
- First Nations: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
- Welcome to Country: a ceremonial greeting delivered by an Elder, Traditional Owner or otherwise authorised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person
- Acknowledgement of Country: a personal statement acknowledging and paying respect to First Nations peoples as the traditional owners of country, for example Wiradjuri country
- respectful: courteous, polite, appropriately honouring
- memorising: learning by heart, knowing by memory
- ochre: native earth varying in colour from pale yellow to deep red and brown
- Dreaming: for Indigenous Australians, this period marks the beginning of time, when the ancestral spirits created and shaped our land formations, rivers, mountains, forests and deserts
- What are the two welcoming ceremonies Penelope talks about in her film?
- What is Tasmania called in traditional language?
- What does Penelope’s middle name mean?
- What does ‘Kanaplila Nayri’ mean in Palawa Kani language?
- What is the Know Your Country campaign all about?
LISTEN TO THIS STORY
1. Design a Poster
Imagine that you have been chosen to design a poster. Your poster will be sent to all schools and will be put up in the staffrooms. Its purpose is to convince teachers to show The Land We’re On to their classes. Create a poster that will help teachers understand what the film is about and why the kids in their classes should see it.
Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; History; Civics and Citizenship
What do you think your school could do to help you and other students learn about and become more connected to country? Describe two activities or events that you think would be great ways to help in this. For each activity or event, add some sentences explaining why you chose it.
Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Civics and Citizenship; Personal and Social Capability
Dream big and inspire
Penelope’s film is about educating other Australian students to understand more about the First Nations culture. There are so many things that we don’t even know about the person next to us and so many have an inspirational story to tell.
Let’s become a journalist for the day and create a set of interview questions to ask a family member, neighbour or classmate. Your job is to learn more about them and find something unique to share with others that could inspire those reading your article.
Interview your person of interest, then turn your interview into an engaging information report. Remember to think about your target audience and how you will capture their attention, as you create an article that really highlights your person of interest.
Don’t forget your VCOP, and practise reading your article aloud to check if it is fluent and engaging.