Stories and stitches

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EVERY doll has a story, Noongar dollmaker Geri Hayden says.

“I grew up on a reserve in Brookton,” she says. “All my old nanas used to make dolls out of materials.

“What they did was any cloth, clothes or a little baby rug or whatever, they’d get that and wrap it up, tie it up.”

Back then the women would sit around to make their dolls together, and just as important as the craft was the yarns they’d share.

Having learned the craft from her nanas, these days Ms Hayden’s dolls are displayed across Australia, having recently been on show at Sydney’s museum of contemporary art.

She also teaches Noongar dollmaking to anyone who’s interested, keeping the tradition of storytelling alive.

“What we ask them, when you get up and make a doll, make it about somebody. Something that reminds you about someone or something in your life.”

The dolls can also help people to open up, especially when teaching schoolkids how to make them.

“Make it about somebody. Something that reminds you about someone or something in your life.”

“It’s a very strong tool. We’ve been with students of all ages… it helped the quiet kids come out of their shell and talk, it helped the naughtier kids sit down and relax.

“They sat and told us their stories. Some of them were very sad stories.”

Ms Hayden says it’s great to share stories of Noongar culture with kids who haven’t heard the tales. One of her dolls, the “Charrnock Woman,” is based on a Dreamtime story about a giant woman who stuck babies in her hair and stole them.

“The Charrnock Woman was stealing all these babies from the community to give to her partner to eat them,” she says.

The people called on a good spirit for help, and they were turned into magpies so they could fly high enough to fight the giant baby stealer.

“They called it a fight across the Bibbulmun nation far and wide. They drew her off the country, they drove her to Bates Cave.”

Ms Hayden says when she tells the story the kids ask “is it true?“ And we tell them it’s a Dreamtime story, it’s a part of us as Noongar people. This is our history. It’s a really good feeling when kids can sit down and listen and want more.

“We had a program up at Narrogin senior high school with year 11 students, Noongar and Wadjela.

“I was so thrilled when I saw the kids sitting down and working with the Wadjela kids.”

Ms Hayden is teaching Noongar dollmaking at the free Yarns of the Heart workshop at The Bodhi Tree in Mount Hawthorn this weekend May 31 and June 1 at 11am for reconciliation week. It’s free, and you can book with Vincent council on 9273 6016. Materials are provided, but you can take a meaningful item to turn into your doll.

by DAVID BELL

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