Why yarning matters

This piece was created in collaboration with Studio Gilay.

Words by Phoebe McIlwraith, a Bundjalung Githabal and Worimi Saltwater dubay/galbaan (woman). Phoebe is a writer, editor and audio producer based in ‘Sydney’.

It’s deadly being a Blackfella. There are so many things about being Black to be proud of, like our beautiful cultures and the staunch resilience of our communities. But sometimes it can mean we get put something extra on our shoulders. 

Constant conversations about us on the news, social media, or at school and work can get exhausting, and sometimes even things going on in our own community can make us feel lonely and disconnected from our culture. 

These heavy feelings might come out of nowhere for you. You might feel a sense of shame or guilt about not being able to cope and want to look strong in front of others. This is especially true if you’re unsure who you can talk to about how you’re feeling, or if you don’t want to talk to other mob because they’re going through it too. 

But, you mob, talking matters. As one of the oldest cultures on this planet, storytelling and talking have held us together for thousands of years. Talking and storytelling keep our lore, language and kinship alive. It's what binds us to our Country, our history and each other.

Speaking helps us stay strong and connected through everything. You deserve to speak and to be heard

Let’s yarn some ways that you can keep talking to support your wellbeing.

Seek wisdom from mob

Cartoon of a young First Nations man walking alone, with his shadow stretching long behind his body. The second frame is of the young man sitting with and listening to an older First Nations man as he speaks.

You’re never alone in how you feel. Your community around you holds so much wisdom to share. Make time to speak to Elders, community leaders or trusted mentors – their experience is worth gold!

Sometimes you might feel scared or shamed, but our communities have always held each other close during hard times. Sharing how we’re going can even inspire the people around us to speak up, which can strengthen our kinship and help us look out for each other.

For advice on how to find your trusted person, check out this video from Wangkatha man Ben Stubbs.

Connect with Country

Cartoon of young First Nations woman lying on her bed looking distressed. In the next frame she is walking through the city. In the final frame she is walking in the park in nature, looking happy and contented.

Connection to Country is something you can always tap into to support your wellbeing, and it can really help when you’re feeling isolated from your culture or community. Here are a couple of ways talking can help you feel close to Country. 

  • Go somewhere that makes you feel calm and connected to Country, and speak directly to it so that it can hold you and strengthen you. I’m a Saltwater person, so sitting on the beach and yarning with Country always makes me feel safe and connected to my culture. I tell Country about my hopes, and about the things I want to make happen in my life, and sometimes I talk about the things that stress me or confuse me. 

  • Call someone back home on Country to maintain your connection there. You could even ask them to describe what they can see, hear or smell, to help you feel like you’re right there beside them.

Remember that everywhere on this continent is Country, and we can always find connection through respecting where we are. Get some more tips for connecting with Country here.

Learn and share your family history

Cartoon image that has four scenes. The main scene is of an older First Nations woman and a younger First Nations girl sitting by a fire yarning. In the top left is a small scene of an older First Nations man and a young boy in traditional body paint. The older man holds a boomerang and looks to be explaining something to the boy. The middle scene is of a young child on a computer looking at the AIATSIS logo. The third scene is of a older man with a younger child on their shoulders. They are both smiling.

Your history is such a great source of strength and identity. Learning about your ancestors might be hard for a couple of reasons, but you must remember that after all your ancestors have been through you’re here today. Learning about and sharing their stories is an amazing way to honour them. Tapping back into where you come from can help you feel less alone and build pride in your culture. Try these tips: 

  • Talk to your family about your ancestors, share your family’s stories and ask lots of questions.

  • Look through old family photos and ask about who is in them and where the photos were taken. 

  • Engage with local community centres and spaces or services like Link-Up that help mob reconnect.

  • Yarn with other mobs to understand their history and how it might weave in with yours.

Speak loud and proud

Cartoon image of a young First Nations girl with her hand by her mouth, yelling out. Around her are rays of light that feature different scenes and images from First Nations culture and history.

Taking pride in your culture and identity is one of the best ways to counteract the heavy things that can be happening around you. Share your stories and cultural knowledge with your mates, or suggest some of your favourite First Nations movies, books and music for them to watch/read/listen to. 

Speaking proudly about who you are and where you come from can give you a stronger sense of self. When you’re feeling strong in who you are, it’s easier to bounce back from tough times!

Open up to the important people in your life

Cartoon of young First Nations girl at a desk with her manager at work. The manager has her hand on the girl's shoulder and is smiling. Above them are two text messages that read: my leave got approved! See you soon bub. There is also an image of a plane landing on Country, the young girl hugging her parents at the airport, and the young girl being embraced by smoke in a traditional ceremony.

When you’re having a tough time, it’s worth sharing how you’re going with the people who can help you take a break from your responsibilities. You might be really nervous about talking to your teacher, manager at work or lecturer at uni, but having these conversations can make it a lot easier to cope. Plus, these important people in your life won’t know how to support you unless you share with them what’s happening in your world. 

It might feel scary to ask for time off of work or for an extension on an assignment for cultural reasons (like sorry business), especially if you’ve had trouble in the past with racist teachers or managers. While you might be nervous, don’t forget that you have just as much of a right as anyone else does to share your needs and ask for support.

Here are some ways that I’ve approached these sometimes daunting conversations:

  • Schedule a meeting so that you have enough time to talk about your situation. You don’t want to rush this chat. Booking in a chunk of time with the person you want to talk to gives you the chance to explain your needs, and gives them enough space to understand what you’re going through. 

  • Write down notes about what you want to talk about in the meeting. This will help you to feel more confident and prepared, especially if you’ve struggled to talk to this person in the past.

  • Reach out for support from First Nations staff. Most schools and universities, and even some workplaces, have dedicated staff who assist First Nations people. Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice or to invite them to join you in the chat! 

Plan ahead to keep connected

Cartoon of young First Nations girl looking at her calendar and diary, thinking ahead to the future. There is another scene of her sitting with her friend as they talk and weave.

When I left high school and moved to university, I felt like I barely had time to talk to the people I love, which I found really hard. Our entire culture is based on kinship – the relationships we have with our family, community, broader society, culture and Country. When we make the time to properly and regularly connect with our loved ones, we can maintain our emotional, mental, cultural and spiritual health.

Get out your calendar and start planning to spend time with the people who bring you joy! Find out when community and cultural events in your area are happening, like Koori Knockout/footy carnivals, weaving workshops, ranger tours, Blackfella artist talks at galleries, or concerts by mob artists. Schedule a weekly phone call with your favourite cousin or a monthly coffee catch-up with a mate from your footy club. Not only does it feel nice to yarn with the people you love, but it also gives you something to look forward to.

What can I do now?

  • Listen to an episode of Yarning Up, a podcast hosted by Mbarbrum woman Caroline Kell. In each episode, Caroline has candid and heartfelt conversations with her guests about connection with First Nations people and our stories.

  • Watch this year’s videos from the annual First Nations Bedtime Stories project, run by Common Ground First Nations. This year the project focused on stories from Noongar Country in Western Australia, which show the deep cultural values of sharing stories as a way to reflect on the world and understand what is the right thing to do.