by Kim Kelly
REFLECTIONS OF YOU
Everyone has one of those friends – you know, that mad one – and our next intrepid Reflector is mine. I know her as Nelly, and I love her enormously. Just the sound of her name takes me back to when we were kids laughing ourselves stupid over nothing by the glow of the 1970s lime green curtains in my bedroom.
She’s also someone I’m enormously proud to know. Our lives have run with some uncanny parallels: both of us are obsessive word nerds; both of us were solo mums who took some time to let our talents shine; both of us are the daughters of strong, slightly scary women we lost too young. Narelle and I are those strong women today – and I know her mum would be thrilled with her achievements. She’s too modest to say it here, but Narelle is a brilliant English teacher, passionate about learning and seeing her students shine, and her dedication is a constant inspiration to me.
All the same, I’m sure both our mothers, wherever they are in the stars, still shake their heads in wonder whenever Narelle and I get together, though – she can still make my face hurt with laughter.
So here she is now, answering our Big Seven questions, my fabulous ‘one of those’…
Who are you and where were you born?
My name is Narelle Daniels (nee Woodberry) and I was born in Rotorua, New Zealand. I am the third (and best) child of Joyce Woodberry (nee Ralph), an Aboriginal woman from La Perouse, and Syd Woodberry, a Pakeha (white man) from Opotikiri, New Zealand.
What’s your most treasured childhood memory?
Spending time with my extended family after being at Yarra Bay beach or La Perouse beach, swimming and eating fresh fish and abalone caught that day. Sitting around, listening to stories of my mum and aunties and uncles growing up – sharing laughs is a huge part of my family culture. In my family, no matter what the situation, there was always room for laughter and food.
What does home mean for you?
My family and Saltwater – essentially anywhere that I can see the ocean makes me feel happy as I am a Saltwater Koori. I feel disconnected if I haven’t placed my feet in the ocean and scrunched sand between my toes; no matter how long I’ve been away, just walking along Yarra Beach or standing on the edge of Botany Bay reconnects me.
What makes you smile?
Three things –
- Spending time with my son – just mother and son time.
- Watching a student’s face when they have that ‘aha’ moment, that connection between them and learning that allows a great boost to their self-esteem and helps them to realise they can do it – when they achieve a new understanding of their skills and themselves.
- The smell of a book – whether it’s an old favourite or a new book. It must be my inner nerd coming out.
What was the hardest lesson you ever had to learn?
That no matter how hard you try sometimes you just can’t save or fix everyone or everything. Circumstances combine and once that happens you just have to acknowledge that no matter how hard you may wish for something or someone to change it’s not up to you. Just let go that which you have no control over.
Who or what is the love of your life?
My son Ryan. Even though he frustrates me no end, which I’m pretty sure is what kids are supposed to do, I am so proud of him and the way he is growing up to be a good person.
What does your past, your history and family heritage mean to you?
Essentially my Aboriginality is part of who I am but so is my non-Aboriginal heritage. I come from a line of strong Aboriginal women who in varying ways stood up for their children and those children who did not or were not allowed a voice. I think it’s why I became a teacher. One thing I always remember my mother saying is, ‘Racism is just ignorance, and that usually can be fixed by education.’ I took that to heart and I know I can’t change society but I can educate the child in front of me so they can work towards bettering society, one person at a time.
Throughout my life many people have said, ‘Oh you don’t look Aboriginal’; depending on the situation (and my mood), I have been known to say in response, ‘Oh well you don’t look ignorant, I guess appearances can be deceiving.’ Generally, however, I try to educate them by using the coffee analogy a lovely old man from La Perouse once told me: ‘Aboriginality is like coffee – no matter how much milk you put in, it’s still coffee.’
I am proud of both sides of my heritage and I connect to my New Zealand side as often as I can. Keeping that connection occasionally involves cousinly bets around the Bledisloe Cup (Rugby Union) or any NRL game where the Warriors are playing. I also support New Zealand in the Olympics as well as Australia – because, well, why not?
The diversity in my heritage is something to be proud of and not denied because of some mainstream media beat up. I think the things that happened in my past have influenced me to be the person who I am today. I am a teacher – that was a hard five years of university, working and being a single mum, but I would do it all again. Sometimes I wish I did things differently but if I did I wouldn’t be in the place I am now, and obviously I am meant to be here. So to all those people who thought I wouldn’t be able to do it or shouldn’t be where I am, I pity your lives filled with negativity, just let it go and focus on your own shortcomings and don’t worry about me – I’m doing just fine.
You sure are, Nells. Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful glimpses of your story here. Now, back to work – haven’t you got papers to mark or lessons to write or something…?