Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Now, that's an Aboriginal way to get children to love books!

Crocodile pizza is one of the delights when Australian Children's Laureate Boori Monty Pryor visits kids in his native country. Ahead of a visit to NI, he tells Una Brankin what will be on the menu here

To be happy about yourself, according to Boori Monty Pryor, you have to be happy about the place you live in.Growing up barefoot in Aboriginal camps, and hurt by constant racist abuse, happiness was often elusive for the Australian Children's Laureate, who brings his acclaimed storykeeping workshops to Northern Ireland at the beginning of April.

There are two Children's Laureates in Australia. The other is Alison Lester who will accompany Boori here.

Throughout his life Boori (62) has had to find a way to be both a "blackfulla" and think like a "whitefulla" in order to survive, to find a compromise between the two cultures.

Having visited Belfast twice before, the charismatic writer, dancer, musician and artist knows his message has special resonance here.

But although he sees a huge historical correlation with the suppression of the cultures of the indigenous Irish/Northern Irish and his own Aboriginal people, he's not coming to talk politics.

"You have to be the water that puts out the fire," he says. "If you fight fire with fire, everything burns."

From Townsville in North Queensland, Boori overcame huge disadvantage and prejudice to forge a diverse career in film, television, modelling, basketball, DJ'ing and theatre-in-education. He has written several award-winning books including Shake a Leg, winner of the Prime Minister's Literary Award for Children's Fiction in 2011.

His semi-autobiography Maybe Tomorrow is filled with tales of dodging trouble in the camps and having to leave home to carve a life for himself.

"Being Aboriginal, I couldn't do that in Townsville," he says.

He is forthright on how much pain and suffering the Aboriginal people have gone through – and equally insistent that anger is not the way to end it. He has endured much personal tragedy in his lifetime, including the suicides of his brother and sister, and speaks bluntly about the racism still faced by his nieces and nephews.

Boori has written passionately about the inability for those in power to simply sit down and talk and understand the black way of thinking, but doesn't expect everything to change suddenly.

"Aboriginals can't just get up and go back to living the way they used to after so many years of oppression and pain, but they can try to make things better in their own way," he says.

"If I could change one thing about the world that would have to be what is put in to education – and that is culture. At the moment in Australia it's an added extra. It should be more dominant and presented as 'this is your culture'. We've not arrived there yet."

Over the last 20 years, visiting schools the length and breadth of Australia, Boori has introduced Aboriginal culture and literacy to more than a million children. From internet footage, it's evident he has a great way with kids and that they love him.

"Little ones don't suffer fools – at the workshops, if they think I'm sitting there talking at them, they're gonna say, 'You suck – we're outta here'," he laughs. "It makes you work harder. Children are the way to the future, I feel hope for my people when I'm teaching the younger generation."

A friendly and inspiring man, Boori's interactive workshops are designed to immerse schoolchildren in the Aboriginal culture, to encourage them to be a part of it rather than just observers. He gets the children to make milkshakes and crocodile pizzas, learn traditional dances and to immerse themselves in his wonderful stories. They are not told to copy Aboriginal painting styles, but encouraged to make it their own through creating their own interpretations.

"Children's laughter really makes me happy," he says. "They can be so funny – I was once asked by a schoolchild, 'How long have you been black?'"

When he's not working a typical day for Boori starts with a lie-in, then yoga, swimming or cycling, a crossword, reading and catching up with his friends and his godfather. He prefers real books to e-books, and writing with a pen to typing.

He loves the heat of the Australian summer at the minute so it seems only fair to warn him of the icy showers predicted for Ireland in April, but having visited twice, he's well aware of our inclement weather.

Above all, he's looking forward to meeting children of all traditions here and helping them to gain respect for those of a different culture.

Through Boori's workshops, children learn how the Aboriginal people's main beliefs and culture come from the stories handed down through the generations, and how they've been illustrated by indigenous paintings which survive to this day.

They also learn how the first European settlement of Aboriginal land in 1788 wiped out a generation and had a huge impact on the population of Aboriginals in the world today. Boori explains: "My aim is to encourage students to develop an understanding of and respect for Aboriginal people and for the land. I believe that all people – no matter where they live – need to have and to know their 'place'. The importance of stories, dance, song, movement and painting lies within all cultures. Poetry through rhythm breathes life into the soul.And he adds: Where everybody dances and tells their stories together, they light the fire to inspire understanding and mutual respect."Win a Storytelling Workshop For Your Class

In celebration of the inaugural visit of the Australian Children's Laureate to Northern Ireland from April 1-3, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in partnership with the Belfast Telegraph are offering you the opportunity to win a Storytelling workshop for your class (up to 25 pupils)

Competition

For your chance to win simply answer this question:

How many Children's Laureates does Australia have?

Email your answers to: competitions@artscouncil-ni.org

Closing date: Wednesday 27 March at 12 midnight

Workshop times and Dates

BELFAST CRESCENT ARTS CENTRE

Monday, April 1

11am-noon Story telling with Boori Monty Pryor (includes lunch) – suitable for ages 6-10 years OR 2-3pm Storytelling workshop with Boori Monty Pryor (does not include lunch) – suitable for ages 11-14 years

LONDONDERRY ARTS CENTRE

Tuesday, April 2

1.30pm-2.30pm Story telling with Boori Monty Pryor – suitable for ages 6 -10 years

Terms And Conditions.

The Arts Council will provide transport for up to 25 pupils. The winner must choose one of the workshops above. The winning class must all attend the same workshop. Kids taking part must be in the age range stipulated

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