Linguist and Yugambeh man shares his people's stories
Yugambeh traditional owner Shaun Davies, is Language Research Officer at the Yugambeh Museum – ‘an important community centre for the Yugambeh people’ – a thriving hub of activity, knowledge and story.
Initially a language and research centre, the museum has expanded into more public-facing programs. It’s a shining star in Logan’s bright constellation of arts and cultural institutions that capture and share local stories – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Just as the museum is an unconventional museum, Shaun is an unconventional linguist. His approach to linguistics is part-sociology, part-anthropology – a rich and layered process, emblematic of his culture.
He passionately believes in the importance of comparative knowledge and a cross-disciplinary approach. This comes from having taught English pronunciation to Asian housewives and from having experienced the disorienting effect, when on exchange to Paris, of entering a culture thinking that he had a grasp on the language and discovering its inherent fluidity.
An advocate at heart, he returned from France filled with zeal to save endangered languages such as Galician Portuguese. Upon this announcement to his Nan and her sister (Aunty Edi), came the wry but truthful rebuff: ‘And what about our lingo?’
‘When my family told me to learn my own language, they gave me a whole box of documents and family trees. In Indigenous culture the language, the people and the land are intrinsically connected. It’s not words on the page. If some material is given to an Indigenous person, the first questions are always: who wrote it? What is the context behind the writing? What are the names associated with the message? Language is people and language is part of the land and there is a trinity between them all.’
Left: Shaun's Grandfather and WWII Veteran, Claude McDermott. Right: Shaun with his Grandmother, Joan Anderson.
‘My grandmother can read the stars and traverse the river and she knows when the mullet comes before it comes. Her Indigenous knowledge of language, culture and the land, is intertwined.’
Shaun’s local knowledge of his people’s history and language is detailed and ever-progressing. Similar to his grandmother, his approach is sociological and anthropological with a dash of historian and a fair dose of the detective.
He actively mines old newspapers and historical records such as land gazettes and new settler documents and pieces together Indigenous history from asides and footnotes in white history. This is where his detective skills kick in. Given that the descriptions of Indigenous people by white settlers were usually passing mentions, Shaun must orientate and assess these in light of the aural anecdotes that have passed from generation to generation through local Indigenous families. He’s looking for clues and similarities that prove, dispute or lead to further investigation.
Luckily for visitors and locals, experts like Shaun have made it easier to access insights about local Indigenous history and culture.
This history is spectacularly told through performance, workshops and other cultural experiences at Spirits of the Red Sands, where you can ‘meet the Aboriginal elders and mobs of great Southern Queensland’. If visitors want to embed their learnings into all aspects of their lives, the centre also offers cultural awareness training to organisations to develop deeper awareness of Aboriginal culture and history.
The Logan Art Gallery is yet another custodian of local stories, showcasing exhibitions such as Our Stories and Designs, one of the most popular in the Gallery’s history. It celebrated the diverse work of visual artists, craftworkers and designers and garnered the gallery a Gallery and Museum Achievement Award (GAMAA) for the support and encouragement of a group of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, including some emerging and unknown.
Another incredibly successful work was the Skeen Family exhibition, showcasing new paintings, photography and woodcraft that demonstrated how Aboriginal culture and knowledge is passed down through family connections.
The much-anticipated Kingston Butter Factory Cultural Precinct, set to open this year, will be a major moment for the city and for local stories. It includes the brand new Living Museum of Logan, a place to see, hear and experience the stories of the City of Logan. It’s where communities can tell their own stories in their own words, through arts and cultural expression.
Importantly, the Living Museum of Logan will feature a First Nations’ space; created by and for Logan’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It will offer visitors the chance to learn about First Nations culture. The first exhibition includes digital stories from Logan’s Elders.
The Kingston Butter Factory Cultural Precinct also will also feature a new Butterbox Theatre in the refurbished Kingston Butter Factory building, as well as the city’s largest outdoor events space and the purpose-built Logan City Heritage Centre.
Yugambeh stories as well as local stories of diversity from here and around the world are all ready and waiting for you in Logan – take a culture trip to find out more.
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