By: Will Helenbrook, PhD

Posted: September 19, 2016
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Faculty Post

A Rewarding Collaboration with the Mandingalbay Yidinji Aboriginal Community


Our collaboration with the Mandingalbay Yidinji (MY) Aboriginal community continues to grow in leaps and bounds. It has now become the norm for students to spend time on MY country, interacting with the Indigenous people, gaining hands on experience with their culture and management of local resources. Last week, the current group of students toured and camped on the MY country; and they have not stopped talking about the wonderful experience they had over there.

This past summer, Brenda Mundraby, an administrative assistant with the MY’s ranger program and a traditional owner, was the third Indigenous student to benefit from the SFS-CRS host country sponsorship program in the last 3 years. I thought I should use the remaining space to share Brenda’s reflections of the SFS Summer 1 program at CRS, in her own words and with her permission.

Brenda Mundraby: SFS Summer 1 2016.

Before leaving to go to New Zealand for the first 2 weeks of my program with The School for Field Studies, I was very nervous and unsure. Flying internationally for the first time and by myself made me feel anxious, but although I did not know my way around the airports I still managed to do so. As I landed at Auckland’s international airport I felt more relieved than ever.

I wasn’t quite sure about whether or not I would fit it. A few days went by and I began to memorize everyone’s names, we all began to talk to one another more and more. It felt like within a blink of an eye we knew one another for such a long amount of time. My friendships with 3 students by the names of Julianne, Nick and Caitlyn became strong because we got along so easily, I felt like I was at home again.

One of my favorite parts of the whole trip around New Zealand was at CUE Haven (a reforestation project) – the married couple was such an inspiration, so big hearted and very welcoming. Planting trees on their land was amazing. Doing something so easy but yet so great and appreciated was one of the highlights of my time at CUE Haven.

My other favorite part in New Zealand was staying at the Marae. The family around me felt like a blessing because while I was missing home so much, I felt like I was at home there. Their positive attitude, their family, culture and beliefs reminded me of mine as the indigenous cultures of Australia and New Zealand have so many similarities. The food was awesome at the Marae as well, I liked the hike we did with the Marae family, especially when we got to go through the fences to feel the spiritual connection, was something different but so interesting.

Coming back home to Australia, Cairns made me feel happy but also sad to leave the Maori country, but it won’t be the last visit. Being around Cairns, Atherton and the Daintree was a lot of fun, as I am a Cairns local and some of the places we visited happened to be my first time so it was something new. Being back in Australia also made me become closer with more of the students as they kept asking me about my culture, land and people and as an indigenous person I could answer them with what knowledge I had.

My favorite part of the Australia trip was coming to my work and country. I got to show everyone what I do as my career and what my people do to keep our culture strong. Camping at the ETR Campsite with the Djunbunji Rangers including my father was very fun indeed and it was great to also share my experiences with the rest of the students as it was my first time doing the MY Tours. I felt very happy when we visited Djunbunji, it was a great feeling to be home on my land after nearly 1 month of being away.

Overall I have made many lifetime friends and also experienced travelling internationally for the first time in which is a big step for me. I gained more knowledge and skills more than ever, and planting trees for a better lifestyle for our wildlife was amazing. We need to look after the beautiful environment around us for not only us but once again for our fauna and flora. I have learnt that you can make friends anywhere, have a lot of fun and laughter and also create new memories that will stay with you forever. If anyone asks me about my trip with SFS, I strongly recommend that they be a part of it. This trip has made me want to experience travelling and the environment in many areas even more. So thank you to the staff and students for making my trip the highlight of my 2016, it was an honor to have stayed with a bunch of amazing, outgoing and wonderful people who became lifetime friends.

→ Tropical Rainforest Studies in Australia

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