Nola Hooper remembers the shell stringers, the sheoak apples, the self-taught musicians and the generous families of Cape Barren Island/truwana like it was yesterday.
It is with much fondness that she thinks back on her upbringing on truwana.
But there is also sadness at the stories that have been lost.
“Today Cape Barren will not ever be the same because our old people are all gone,” Ms Hooper writes.
“They took so much with them that kept us all together.”
The old ways of passing down stories and knowledge have long passed. Forced dispossession of many, including Nola’s brother and sister as part of the Stolen Generation, had disrupted family ties.
Throughout her life, Ms Hooper has carried the stories of her childhood in her memory.
Now, for the first time, she has been able to put them down in print for her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and future generations to read.
With the support of the University of Tasmania’s murina program, Ms Hooper compiled the stories of her childhood on a computer and printed them out.
A small task for many, but it made the world of difference for Ms Hooper, who had no experience with computers.
“I can pass them onto somebody else in my family. I've got nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren,” she said.
“It’s something that can be passed down to them.”
Her story evokes truwana of the 1940s to 60s, being brought up on bush tucker of grandcherries, wild currants, pigface, seeds and pine sap as chewing gum.
Elders would comb the beaches for shells to string and a man would make guitars out of plywood.
Christmas was a busy time when Ms Hooper’s house would be covered with decorations and they would collect white wash from the beach to clean the fireplace.
Her school had 30 children and a teacher who was fond of the cane – one of the many aspects of truwana life introduced during colonisation.
The families – despite having children dispossessed and made wards of the state – were committed to their community.
“The community people I grew up with were generous, caring, hard-working, supported their families and other people,” Ms Hooper wrote.
“We weren’t raised kissy, cuddly as children, we were raised to be strong, respectful individuals with no sitting around on your laurels.”
She even wrote a story about one of her heroes, Neville Bonner, the first Aboriginal to become a member of parliament.
The murina program at UTAS provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people with a stepping stone into studying, designed for those who may have disengaged with schooling, or could be the first person in their family considering university.
The program combines academic study skills with Aboriginal history, culture, heritage and on-country trips.
Lynne Spotswood, of Launceston, had ambitions of studying social work at UTAS, but lacked the confidence to move straight into university.
She said the murina program was helping her to achieve her dream of supporting other Aboriginal people in troubled times.
“By my age, I have a lot of life experiences other than academia, I have a lot to offer,” Ms Spotswood said.
“This would be the best place to come to get your foot in the door. A lot of our kids, we have low retention rates through high schools, through years 11 to 12.
“Places like this are just wonderful so you can get up to speed.”
UTAS held a series of sessions earlier this month where younger people were able to engage with Ms Hooper and Ms Spotswood about the importance of both studying, and their Aboriginal identity.
Aboriginal student success officer Courtney Fechner said it was about breaking the cycle of disadvantage that disproportionately affected the Aboriginal community.
“There’s obviously a lot of barriers that Aboriginal people face during their education experience, whether that starts from primary school, through high school and into university,” she said.
“That could be experiences of racism, academic readiness, and also a lot of issues around being the first-in-the-family to attend university.
“For a lot of our students, their family may not understand what university is about, so staff at Riawunna and across the university play an important role in boosting students’ confidence by providing mentoring and being positive role models.”
Ms Fechner said reconnecting with culture and heritage helped people discover their identity and gave them confidence for other aspects of life.
For more information about the murina program, visit www.utas.edu.au/riawunna or call 6324 3491.