Kurnai Woman and Educator Emmy Webbers On Bringing Culture To The Classroom + Connecting With Country
Emmy and Brendan with Tyreese (6), Arwen (3) and Atlas (1). Photo – Sarah Collins.
‘Covid has put a pause on big community events meaning we haven’t done a Welcoming Baby to Country ceremony for my youngest yet and we don’t know when we will be able to,’ says Emmy. Photo – Sarah Collins.
‘My kids are so fortunate to grow up with culture as part of their everyday lives, it is just part of everything we do. They learn new skills or stories from my mother, my sister and myself. They really don’t know any different,’ says Emmy. Photo – Sarah Collins.
‘I think it’s so important to have our kids connected to culture as much as possible, our people are so strong, and we learn so much from being together,’ says Emmy.Photo – Sarah Collins.
Exploring Wurundjeri Country, where the family live. Photo – Sarah Collins.
The education system hasn’t advanced much further in the realm of Indigenous knowledge and culture since Emmy Webbers graduated more than a decade ago. But this is not from lack of interest in the subject.
After being asked by the director of her child’s kindergarten to run a workshop with the kids about First Nations culture, Emmy found there was a deep desire among the children, parents, and educators to learn more about ancestral knowledge systems, Country, culture and ways of community.
Emmy founded Wurruck Yambo in response to this. A single-employee operation, Emmy conducts educational workshops with school and kinder children, using figurines and resources she makes herself. She also facilitates consulting services for businesses and local councils, and is an ambassador for Know Your Country – an initiative to support First Nations educators sharing culture in every primary school.
Through pandemics and lockdowns, remote learning and distance restrictions that prevented Emmy and her family from returning to Country, Wurruck Yambo continued to provide connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture to kids of all backgrounds, over the past two years.
We’re so grateful to Emmy for sharing her story with us here!
How and when did you and your partner meet?
We first met in 2010 when we were teenagers and I was a bit of an airhead. We both umpired grassroots AFL for a while, but we didn’t become friends properly until 2012 and then eventually started dating in 2014. We spent a lot of time being friends while dating other people, which we joke about now.
But luckily time did eventually line up for us, and we realised (apparently long after those around us did) that we actually liked each other. We have a lot of fun in our relationship and spend most of our time either making lame jokes at each other or trying to compete in something silly.
Tell us about living in the the Dandenong Ranges.
The Community – ‘hills people’ – are honestly some of the best I have met. I think the world of parenting can be pretty lonely at times, and I absolutely felt that before we moved here when our oldest was two. But the people out here just really care for each other and really root for you, I find everyone is just always so proud of each other.
On top of that, everyone is just really cool. They are so interesting and fascinating in their own ways but also really accepting, just the best people, and I feel so lucky my kids get to be raised with all these other incredible children. We are also really outdoors people, so having so many beautiful spaces to explore is such a treat.
What inspired you to start Wurruck Yambo?
Wurruck Yambo started organically, I majored in Indigenous Studies at university but never really knew where to go with it from there. I was always artistic, but very much treated it like a side hobby. And then my oldest started kinder, and I was asked to come in and run a session with the kids.
I think I was naive, I assumed that a lot would have changed with the education system in terms of Indigenous education. I absolutely loved running that session for the kids and the director of the kinder wanted me to do more, and it just grew from there.
I was able to utilise my artistic side by adding artwork and handmade resources to the business, I could utilise my degree, I could love my culture and have that ingrained in my work, and also I found something I was insanely passionate about.
I feel so lucky to have been given the space I have to educate kids. Children are so smart and I cannot wait to see what the next generation does.
Is making your Wurruck Yambo figurines an all-family activity?
Ha! Yes! Sometimes it can take so long. Everyone wants to help!
I always tell customers they are well tested for durability, and I mean that! Between a 6, 3 and 1 year old they have really been tested in multiple ways!
So yes, it’s an all family activity, I have many versions of these that the children have decorated that look amazing, maybe one day I will list them for sale also!
What does a typical weekday look like in your household?
The typical day? Now that is the question! Each day looks different. My oldest is in school, so that takes up most days and then my younger two are in occasional care.
I think I just work on fitting it all in, some days it’s heavy in the studio getting products made and orders packed. I have a play table out there for the kids when they aren’t actively helping. Other days its planning for workshops, facilitating workshops or meetings for council and other projects.
Some days it’s bookkeeping – which I don’t love but it must be done – so that includes updating the website, tracking expenses and income and invoicing and this is usually when the kids get movie time.
Other days it’s slower and I have time to unwind and paint. It is busy and hectic, and it often means I am working at night, but I am lucky to have great kids that I get to share this with (and also have the flexibility to fit around their lives, too).
What was the switch to remote learning like?
Remote learning was different, I am so grateful to be able to move my work online and still generate an income, but I do find it hard. I am the type of person that generates energy from those around me, and I take that into my work. It also means during a workshop we can venture into topics naturally when the conversations and questions are flowing. I find this doesn’t happen as much online. My preference is always in person, but I want to be safe like everyone else, so therefore online has been great for that.
I also got to experience different ages online; for younger kids pre-recorded segments worked best and for older kids live workshops usually with PowerPoints were generally better received, so it absolutely was great exploring these different ways of learning. I also got to see how remote learning was for my oldest, and understand that sometimes it doesn’t matter how amazing the person teaching is, remote learning just doesn’t work for some people; my six-year-old was absolutely one of them.
How do you impart cultural wisdom within your own family? Do you have any special routines or rituals as a family to connect your kids to their heritage?
My kids are so fortunate to grow up with culture as part of their everyday lives, it is just part of everything we do. They learn new skills or stories from my mother, my sister and myself. They really don’t know any different. Sometimes my kids will just start randomly talking about something like smoking ceremonies because they have no reason to think other people don’t know about these.
Covid has put a pause on big community events, meaning we haven’t done a Welcoming Baby to Country ceremony for my youngest yet, and we don’t know when we will be able to. Having said that, we usually go to mob Christmas parties and spend important dates in the calendar with our community, either celebrating or mourning.
I think it’s so important to have our kids connected to culture as much as possible. Our people are so strong, and we learn so much from being together.
How did you stay connected to community and Country while in lockdown?
Lockdown was absolutely rough for community; I take my hat off to all the work local gathering places did during those times!
Because I don’t live on my Country it was hard, we couldn’t go back there as frequently as we like to be able to reconnect with it physically. I really missed it during those times, it gave a deeper appreciation for when we do go now.
Staying connected to community was mostly through phones calls, and a lot of them! I also took to completing cultural activities with the kids and made an effort to still recognise important dates for community with them, I really just attempted to keep it as similar as I could for them, just from home.
What is your biggest wish for your kids?
I just want them to be happy and kind, raising little people is a really humbling experience but it also gives such a great perspective. These kids are the future and I feel like I get an opportunity to at least somehow shape how that looks. And I want nothing more than a more open and accepting kind world for them to live in.
Emmy and Brendan at home, surrounded by visual art and mementos of heritage. Photo – Sarah Collins.
‘Because I don’t live on my Country it was hard, we couldn’t go back there as frequently as we like to be able to reconnect with it physically. I really missed it during those times, it gave a deeper appreciation for when we do go now,’ says Emmy. Photo – Sarah Collins.
Emmy’s home office, with Wurruck Yambo and figurines! Photo – Sarah Collins.
Family activity or outing?
We love exploring outdoors but our favourite would have to be Dragon’s Nests, the kids’ imaginations go wild there.
Favourite cafe and restaurant?
Earthly Pleasure Café, this is our go-to; it has something for everyone and some of the best people run it
Your ideal ‘me time’ activity?
Depending on my mood either painting or reading.
Sunday morning breakfast ritual?
My partner cooks some sort of exciting breakfast while we have a morning dance party.
Probably a bit short for a weekend but for a long weekend we love to go home to Country, camping along the Timbarra River.
Learn more about Wurruck Yambo here.
Arwen (3), Tyreese (6) and Atlas (1)! Photo – Sarah Collins.