17 Jun Kin and culture
My name is Jennah Dungay. I am 22 years old. I am a proud Wiradjuri and Dunghutti woman – my families are from the NSW towns Wellington and Kempsey.
When I was about eight years old I started living with relatives, instead of my mum. I moved around a bit – to Wollongong, Sydney and Coffs Harbour. It was a very unstable life, but I was mostly happy and I always felt at home where I lived with my aunties, though I longed for my mum. If there was an event at school that the other children were bringing their parents to I always wished I could bring my mum, not just my aunties. But my mum was in jail for most of my childhood.
In my culture, your mum is practically your identity, so I felt connected to my culture because I knew who my mum was, even when she wasn’t around. I knew where my tribe was from, so I knew where I was from. You can have a thousand fathers, but you can just have one mother.
Living with my own kin was very important for me, and it’s important for any other Aboriginal child in care. It’s important because Aboriginal people understand Aboriginal humour and language – like when blackfellas say ‘gammin’, it means you’re lying or someone is pulling your leg. Putting a kid who is probably already distressed about not being able to stay living at home into a whole new culture would just make life even harder for them.
Aboriginal kids that don’t grow up with black culture and history also find it hard to be accepted by their people later on, but if they’re around it every day, they are part of it and are accepted in that community. An example of this is the time I spent growing up in Sydney. My dad and mum are from Wellington and Kempsey, but even though I was away from them, I grew up as part of Aboriginal culture in Sydney and that meant that I was accepted by the community there, and later on I was able to get recognition from the Land Council as being Aboriginal.
I was lucky to grow up with close kinship ties even though I was in out-of-home care. But I have a little brother who’s not yet six, and I’ve only seen him four times in his life. He lives with his father’s half-sister, so he’s still in an Aboriginal family. But he doesn’t know who his mother is, and that breaks my heart. I desperately want to have more contact with him.
Wanting to have my brother in my life is what recently gave me the urgent sense of needing to get my life together. I had found myself at a crossroads, I had completed a training program but only had part-time work, and I was living with cousins. I wanted to get out on my own, but I had no savings for bond, and didn’t own any furniture or household goods.
I became involved with Uniting through the Aftercare program – a program that helps young people who, like me, have grown up in out-of-home care so don’t have the same support networks lots of other young people have in their late teens and early 20s as they are becoming independent adults. The Aftercare program helps with lots of the same things someone else’s parents or families might – bus tickets, groceries, bond, clothes. In my case, Uniting helped me with bond and furniture so I could set up my own place. I was able to use the money from my part-time work for household items like sheets and towels.
I feel like I’ve become another woman now. I’ve learnt how to be more independent now that I’m out on my own – living, paying expenses, not relying on anyone. I have a new full-time job as an Aboriginal Family Support Worker too, and that’s keeping me grounded. I can do so much more now. I finally feel like I’m at home. It’s my home and I can make it however I like now. I hope that having a home and stability will mean that this year I can bring my little brother into my life and give him the family he needs.
By Jennah Dungay
Watch more of Jennah’s story below