When I was 12, a boy called Peter brought a goanna into our English class for his presentation on animals. He’d caught it the day before, and later that night his mum lit a fire and helped him cook it up so he could bring it in to share with the class. It was educational AND delicious. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was to have an experience that many white Australian city kids may never have – a sharing of culture not at some festival or tourism hotspot, but in the mundane and unremarkable setting of a school classroom. Peter got an A and the rest of us got to taste goanna.
These are the kind of experiences that build understanding and connection and tell the bigger story of what country means to our first nation. This is where true reconciliation takes place – just ordinary people doing ordinary things like any other ordinary day. This is where where understanding builds respect.
I was recently at a writers’ festival in the children’s tent listening to a young Indigenous author entertain kids with his stories. The kids were wide-eyed. They were laughing. They were right there. It occurred to me how unusual this was, how most children’s stories tend to focus on dominant culture. White stories. What is it like growing up with most of the books and TV shows that you watch only ever telling stories about white children? How do you feel about yourself and your identity if you never get to see positive, engaging stories about girls or boys just like you reflected back?
I want my white child to hear black stories. I also want to know the Indigenous kids in this country aren’t constantly subjected to books and TV that repeatedly tells the stories of white kids. I believe it’s important for all kids to see themselves right in the middle of the frame of their story.
Adapted from the award-winning novel by Sue McPherson, the series' main character is the extraordinary Fuzzy Mac (played by 13-year-old newcomer Kyliric Masella), a wild-haired girl, who in the tradition of wild-haired girls, isn’t quiet or compliant or ordinary.
She lives with her nan and pop in the quiet country town of Laurel Dale. But things aren't as quiet as they appear. On the day of her 13th birthday, it's revealed that Fuzzy has a very special role as the custodian of Lola’s Forest, the place where the spirit of her great grandmother Lola resides. She’s an ordinary teenager coming to grips with the presence of her ancestors, and the importance of caring for country via Lola’s Forest - a place imbued with a special mysticism.
I watched the first couple of episodes with my eight-year-old daughter Ivy. She was transfixed. The series has the hallmarks of typical young adolescent adventure, but it has a little more. Ivy asked me about sacred places and why you shouldn’t take things from them. She understood the concept perhaps better than an adult that what is created in country shouldn’t be taken from country. She asked about what a "totem"' was and how that was special. She loved the idea of an animal that lived in nature whose environment you safeguarded that in turn looked out for you. She wanted to know if she had a totem animal. I told her she didn’t, but we could choose an animal in the garden and she could be in charge of making sure that its environment was protected.
I have to say as a parent it's wonderful to watch a kids' TV show where so many of the faces and positive images of parents and librarians and teachers are Indigenous.
It reminds me that we just don’t see this enough in mainstream TV series. This is an adventure with a difference – where a young girl must navigate between the new world of iPhones and school and the old world of spirit and country and safeguarding culture.
Story is so important in helping shape young minds, in how they understand the world and their place in it. If we are to create a future that promotes true respect, that values Indigenous culture and spirituality, and one that truly walks the walk of reconciliation, then we have to learn to listen.
The world's oldest and most experienced storytellers have something to tell us. And boy, do they know how to spin a yarn.
Watching Grace Beside Me, I realised this was an opportunity for exactly that. Grab your children, sit together and enjoy.
Grace Beside Me premieres on Friday, February 16, at 7.30pm on NITV Channel 34, and will be available on SBS On Demand.
What show do you watch with your child? Tell us your pick/s in the comments below.
This content is created with thanks to our brand partner Grace Beside Me.
Grace Beside Me, a new TV series from Magpie Pictures, premieres 16th February, 7.30pm, on NITV Channel 34 and SBS On Demand. Come on a journey with Fuzzy Mac, a girl who can see spirits - it's funny, a bit spooky and packed with adventures, for families, kids and the young at heart to enjoy! #gracebesideme
Click here to see the trailer.