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Desert Pea Media work with ‘Saltwater People’ (The 380 Crew) during the video shoot for the song Yaegl Biirrinba (This Is Our River). Image: Desert Pea Media

Intergenerational collaboration points the way forward

| Geoff Helisma

First Nations Maclean High School students have written lyrics for a song they perform in a video that had been viewed over 16,000 times and shared 500 times within four days of its launch on Thursday August 2.

The project was facilitated and directed by Byron Bay-based Desert Pea Media (a registered charity organisation established in 2002) and funded by The Yulgilbar Foundation.

The students call themselves The 380 Crew; the song, Yaegl Biirrinba (This Is Our River), includes Yaygirr language sung by Yaegl elders and is informed by three significant events: a demarcation line in Maclean, the 1967 referendum that recognised Aboriginal people as citizens and the Aboriginal reserve established on Ulgundahi Island in 1904.

The demarcation line (the pedestrian crossing in front of Woolitji House, Maclean), beyond which Aboriginal people could not pass, is referenced in the song’s lyrics: “Telegraph to the street corner, drew an invisible line / Segregation, isolation, limitations in their mind / Then came demonstration, 1965 the Freedom Rides / Now it’s my relation, Yaegl Nation, and we regaining our pride.
Desert Pea put it this way: “In the 1967 referendum, Maclean had the highest NO vote in NSW for changes to the Australian Constitution to improve the services available to Indigenous Australians.

“We went back there 51 years later and made this; couldn’t be prouder or more humbled by working with these incredible kids.

“With huge gratitude and love for the Yaegl Nation of Maclean and Yamba, we are honoured to present Yaegl Biirrinba.

“Thanks so much for having us!!”

The song and video were created over a five-day period, which began with Yaegl elders telling their stories to the students.

“The elders’ resilience, knowledge and desire for a better future for the younger generations empowered the project,” says Liza Hamilton, the school’s deputy principal instructional leader.

“Their message is simple: strive for whatever you want to achieve; nothing is impossible; believe in yourself and your culture.

“The project was an exciting initiative for the school; the students and the elders have fully embraced it.

The end result has made us so proud of them.

“The elders relayed the hardships they endured when they were the same age; however, they never let such experiences define them.”

Ms Hamilton recalls shooting the demarcation line scene: “They made them do 30 takes, walking across the pedestrian crossing, and [the students] were great.

“People who understood what was happening honked their horns and people stood outside Spar and asked questions about what was going on.

“The kids were having a ball and living out past injustices in a positive way.”

Yaegl elders sing the chorus: Ginagaay dyinda gagu (welcome sister, brother) Yaygirr Nya Yundi (this is our language) Ginagaay dyinda gagu (welcome sister, brother) Yaegl Biirrinba (this is our river).

The students sing, in part: “Reminiscing on the stolen generation back in the day Gubbars (white people), mission manager takin’ all the children away / Now its opportunity, education … look how times have changed / All the complications throughout the ages / Old people paved the way I’ll shape my own identity, I’m just the way I’m meant to be / It’s in my blood, my destiny, gotta show the whole world the best of me.”

The video can be viewed at