Aunty Shaa is a Gumbaynggirr storyteller, artist and cultural facilitator. Her mother is Gumbaynggirr and father Bundjalung. Through her work she shares knowledges while caring for Country. She leads Yandaarra, a research collaboration on Gumbaynggirr Country under the guidance of the Old fellas and Country itself.
"The Law is held in the stories... Aunty Elaine gave me responsibility of being the story teller, continuing that tradition of passing the Law on. And the Law is the law of the earth, the law of the land, the mother."
Aunty Shaa was part of the team that began the revitalisation and maintenance of Gumbaynggirr language through Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co-operative. She continues her storytelling through art, mostly through commissioned work in schools and in other venues, through teaching and through Yandaarra, which she leads.
She is Aunty to many, many children and adults in Gumbaynggirr Country. Her vision is to use Gumbaynggirr dreaming as a key to open up holistic ways of being, knowing and learning.
"This is Country speaking, it is Dunggirr, koala, calling us into respectful and good relationships with Country led by Elders and custodians."
Yandaarra means to ‘shift camp’ in Gumbaynggirr language and, for Aunty Shaa, this shifting of camp needs to happen on many different levels: in our lives, our dreams, our work, our homes and our families, and through broader structures that can allow a genuinely respectful coming together as Gumbaynggirr and non-Gumbaynggirr peoples.
Led by Aunty Shaa, Yandaarra includes Neeyan Smith, young Gumbaynggirr woman who supports her Elders in passing down knowledge through the generations, Gumbaynggirr Country, and three academics from the Discipline of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Newcastle: Sarah Wright, Paul Hodge and Lara Daley.
Alongside partner, the Jaliigirr Biodiversity Alliance, Yandaarra aims to build a better understanding of what Gumbaynggirr-led Caring for Country might look like, and how it might be practiced, today on the NSW mid-north coast. Part of this learning means heeding the call of Dunggirr, Koala.
“Dunggiidu ngiyaanya ganggaadi, ‘Ngalanamba ngaanya’ is Koala, us mob, calling, ‘Help me’. This is Country speaking, it is Dunggirr, koala, calling us into respectful and good relationships with Country led by Elders and custodians”.
Heeding Dunggirr’s call, Aunty Shaa has led camps, workshops, ceremony, yarning and tree planting with an array of people living and working on Gumbaynggirr Country. Shifting camp together is learning what it means to care for Country today. When we look at how to shift our practices, relationships and ways of thinking about caring for land, plants, animals, sea and sky, Aunty Shaa reminds us that using Gumbaynggirr Dreaming and protocols is key.