Aboriginal culture inspires Makayla Gilbert's award-winning story

Makayla Gilbert recently received a NSW Children's Week creative story competition award. Photo: contributed
Makayla Gilbert recently received a NSW Children's Week creative story competition award. Photo: contributed

Twelve-year-old Young High School student Makayla Gilbert recently took out a statewide creative story competition.

Makayla was recognised by the Office of the Advocate for Children and Young People NSW [ACYP] during this year's Children's Week Awards, winning best story in the 12 to 18 years category.

More than 800 stories were submitted in this category by young people from across NSW.

A presentation was held on Wednesday, October 23 at the ACYP office at Sydney.

Makayla's story is about her family returning to Koorawatha from Sydney and her connection to Wiradjuri culture.

She writes about her ancestors and her responsibility to carry on their legacy, weaving Wiradjuri language into her story.

"About six years ago we moved from Sydney so we could connect back to our land. And I noticed two scar trees in the backyard near the paddock and I went down there and I felt really connected to the country," she said.

"The people who inspired to write this was Nan, she's spoke to me about all of it, and Dad inspired me a lot.

"I didn't write for the reward. I wrote it for fun, and I felt I needed to write something about my culture. I wrote it, showed Mum and Dad and they were very impressed."

Makayla said it took about one week to write the story. She added that creative writing is not something she's done a lot of.

"It's not something I've always enjoyed," she said.

"I felt I need to do something more than just sitting and listening to my ancestors and elders."

Her father, Dean Gilbert, said he was hugely proud.

Makayla's story is below.

The Custodian

One warm summer afternoon Mum and I decided to go for a walk around our property at Koorawatha.

Koorawatha is a country town in the South West Slopes region of New South Wales between Cowra and Young'.

It is also known as Wiradjuri country.

Wiradjuri country is known as ""the land of the three rivers"", the Wambool later known as the Macquarie, the Kalare later known as the Lachlan and the Murrumbidgee or Murranbidgeri.

Wiradjuri country extends from Coonabarabran in the north, straddling the Great Dividing Range down to the Murray River and out to western NSW and my home in Koorawatha.

My family moved to Koorawatha from Sydney because my father wanted to return back to his people, his maygini.

Whilst walking through the long green grass my Mum and I spotted two large trees ahead of us near a creek. Moving closer I noticed that the large gum trees had carvings on them.

The designs were abstract in form. I looked at mum and she was just as excited as I was. We ran back up to the house and we told dad what we had found.

Dad took my hand and we walked slowly towards the trees in the paddock. He walked around them, pausing at times and then he slowly began running his fingers along the old carved markings on the tree.

He took a deep breath and proceeded to tell me that the trees were Aboriginal scar trees that had been carved for the purpose of creating canoes, containers, shields and to build temporary shelters from the weather. Dad also told me that our ancestors were known to also cut toe holes in the trees to make it easier to climb.

The ability to climb was imperative as trees were used as lookouts and the toe holes were advantageous in hunting for trees dwelling possums, bee hives or simply to cut bark from higher up in the tree.

He continued to tell me that scar trees were generally found alongside major rivers, creeks and lakes and may have also been used to mark an area which was settled in historic Wiradjuri times.

I was overwhelmed, tears welled up in my eyes. My ancestors camped on this property and the trees were now part of my dreaming, my song lines. I took a few breaths and closed my eyes.

I felt my grandmother's spirit enfold me like a warm soft blanket. Holding me close connecting me to the land, the trees and the sky. I had lost my connection to country when I was living in Sydney. I had lost my yindymarra, my culture, my heritage.

The scar trees were proof that my people, my maygini were here long before the arrival of the first fleet. I could hear my grandmother and my ancestors whispering softly in a language I didn't speak but I could understand.

They told me that I was a custodian of this place and it was my duty to protect the trees, the rivers and the land. They told me I was now home, back on country where I belonged. As a custodian it was my duty to pass down to my children one day our Wiradjuri lore and our dreaming.

That same day Dad and I decided to build a campsite by the trees in the form of a circle. I remember collecting rocks and laying them around the campfire. In winter we spend a lot of time by the campfire telling stories and cooking damper, Jonnie cakes and pea and ham soup.

My maygini over the years, come to visit and sit around our campfire telling yarns and paying respect to the two scar trees on our land.