In a world where traditional Pilbara Aboriginal culture has been largely left behind by books, the bush is the only library Janet Stewart needs.
A teacher at South Hedland Primary School, Mrs Stewart was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Hedland NAIDOC Awards two weekends ago for her work mentoring Aboriginal children.
A Nyangumarta elder, born and raised in Port Hedland, Mrs Stewart teaches traditional language and is one of few Aboriginal language teachers in the region.
She has also been involved with Wangka Maya Aboriginal Language Centre, establishing Nyangumarta dictionaries, and is part of the Mothers of Australia Shed, Pilbara Indigenous Women’s Aboriginal Corporation and Mothers Against Drugs.
Mrs Stewart said she loved working with children at the school to help preserve their traditional language and culture.
“The kids look forward to learning the language, they always say ‘have we got language with you today Nanna?’,” she said.
“Every year I tell my principal I’m going to retire next year, then every year I come back anyway … I’ll still be there for a while though.
“It’s nice to get recognised by the NAIDOC people, otherwise I’d have to do another 10 years before I get recognised.”
The mother-of-two said it was important young people learnt the language and culture of the Pilbara, even though change in the area was making it harder.
“We don’t have a library to tell us about our culture, we have to go out into the bush and teach the kids ourselves,” she said.
“If we don’t teach these kids about our culture, where will they learn it from?”