Peter Aldenhoven had no idea Deadly Kids would be so successful. As the executive officer of Men’s Business at Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association in Hastings, he knew there was a need for it but was uncertain how far and wide that need would span.
Peter explains: “We thought there may be a handful of kids interested in the program, but we had up to 20 participants right from the start, and their families were coming too. It’s gone gang-busters.”
Willum Warrain offers five cultural programs for Indigenous people across the Peninsula. The Deadly Kids program, which runs on Thursdays from 4-5.30pm, offers a safe culture-based landing place for Indigenous kids from all backgrounds. The program has been operating bi-monthly via Zoom during the pandemic.
Peter continues: “The focus on Deadly Kids is exclusively cultural. The three rules of the group are: Respect for Country, Respect for Elders, and Respect for Each Other. We acknowledge the Bunurong/Boon Wurrung peoples at the start of every session and recite the rules every week too. Activities like boomerang-throwing, spear, clapstick and hut-making and possum skin armband-making are practised. The kids also learn about totems, bush tucker, traditional storytelling and smoking ceremony. The real highlight of term one this year, before we had to close down due to the pandemic, was harvesting myrnong, or yam daisy. The kids had planted them last spring and cooked them in the traditional way – pounded pancake-style on heated rocks. It was probably the first time local Aboriginal kids had planted, harvested and eaten yam daisies since colonisation.”
Willum Warrain acts as a gathering place for Aboriginal people to build a shared identity. Deadly Kids is a program that teaches traditional values to eight to 14-year-olds, although siblings, parents and carers often participate in the sessions because “it is the Aboriginal way to include kin”, says Peter. “We teach how everything is shared, how everyone has rights and responsibilities to the group, and how caring for Country means Country will care for you.” Lessons that could well be learnt by all of us.
Each week, one of the program’s workers drives a bus from Frankston through Mornington, Mount Martha and Hastings picking up participants. Once the kids arrive at Willum Warrain, they eat before getting down to Deadly Kids business. Parents and carers alike have expressed how important the program is because they say their kids receive little or no Aboriginal curriculum content at school.
Peter concludes: “Cultural pride is critical for navigating adolescence into young adulthood. A number of our Aboriginal mob living on the Mornington Peninsula are amongst the most socially-disadvantaged cohorts locally. Willum Warrain provides charitable support for families experiencing difficulties and Aboriginal kids living in out-of-home care. It can be hard growing up Aboriginal in mainstream settings. Some kids experience racism, lose cultural connection living ‘off country’ away from kin and culture or are impacted by the Stolen Generation. We have big dreams for our young ones. They are our emerging leaders and our future.”
Responsibility, respect and care. Leadership qualities? What else is there?