Elder’s legacy lives on in cultural book

Tamra CarrMidwest Times
Sonia Nelson and Pia Wadjarri student Rihanna Schwarze, 12, in front of Meekatharra School of the Air.
Camera IconSonia Nelson and Pia Wadjarri student Rihanna Schwarze, 12, in front of Meekatharra School of the Air. Credit: Tamra Carr Midwest Times

Late Aboriginal elder Lawrence Merry was born under a tree in the Murchison in 1953.

He was a gardener at Pia Wadjarri Remote Community School, a municipal services officer and a community chairman.

Before he died last September, aged 65, he took Geraldton woman Sonia Nelson to his birthplace.

Ms Nelson has since memorialised the elder and the land he called home in a technology-infused picture book, serving as both new learning material at Pia Wadjarri and a tribute to the Merry family.

The book also pays respect to the late Rachel Papertalk, who founded Pia Wadjarri school in 2003, after deciding that she did not want to send her children away to become educated.

Ms Nelson, who is Pia Wadjarri’s corporate services manager based at Meekatharra School of the Air in Geraldton, said the book was her answer to gradual loss of Wadjarri culture.

“Even Lenny Merry, the elder on site at the school, doesn’t speak language as fluently as he would like to,” Ms Nelson said.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years — the culture being lost.”

Late Aboriginal elder Lawrence Merry.
Camera IconLate Aboriginal elder Lawrence Merry. Credit: Bundiyarra

The augmented-reality book, called Capture the Culture, features photos of Murchison landscapes taken by former Pia Wadjarri principal Kevin McKenna.

With help from an application, readers can hover their tablet or mobile phone over a page and a video of a Wadjarri community member will appear on their screen, speaking about the landscape in English and Wadjarri.

Ms Nelson said the technology was the first of its kind in Australia.

The book is an indigenous resource at Pia Wadjarri Remote Community School, but Ms Nelson said there was preliminary talk about using the book as a resource at all schools within the Murchison network.

Pia Wadjarri is situated about 350km north-east of Geraldton.

According to the Department of Education, the school caters for up to 20 students.

Copies of the book were expected to be given to Geraldton Regional Library earlier this month.

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