The key values in Adam Duncan’s life: his family, his career as an educator and his passion for sharing Indigenous culture, all of which intersect in his role as Centre Director at the Wiradjuri Preschool and Child Care at the University of Canberra.
His two young daughters, aged four and seven, attend the Centre every day. The family puppy, six-month-old Cavoodle Louis, is also a regular, and fan favourite among preschool and university students alike.
And Adam’s career has revolved around sharing Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing. It’s a mission of his, to help each child develop a connection to and love for Country.
As a preschool teacher, father of two young daughters and member of its advisory board, Adam is a regular visitor at the National Museum of Australia. When the Museum launched its new immersive play space, the Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre, it engaged five authors to write individual children’s books, each telling a different story of Australian history.
Adam had never anticipated the major role he would end up landing.
“They needed an author for the final book, and asked: do you know any stories about bunyips?” Adam says.
Well-known creatures prevalent in Aboriginal storytelling, bunyips featured in early Dreamtime stories, and their legacy has endured to the present day – and Adam did happen to know a tale about bunyips.
Through his time working at the Wiradjuri Preschool, Adam has told a particular oral tale to generations of his students. Each year, the adventure has grown and evolved, as he encourages the children to be active participants in the story. It is a deeply interactive tale, and one that resonates with the students.
“The story has expanded ... originally the students were interested in dragons, but in keeping with the connection to Country, we landed on the bunyip. The story’s connection with the stars came about from the students’ interest in space,” Adam says.
“It was intended for all students to see themselves in the story, to place themselves in that role. In the end, it is the protagonists’ knowledge of Country that helps them escape the bunyip.”
After months of work to bring it to print, The Bunyip and the Stars was officially launched.
It’s been a surreal change for Adam, receiving recognition as an author.
“We were at the Discovery Centre the other day and I ended up giving an impromptu reading, because the staff told visitors – that’s the author right there!” Adam says.
Adam has been a passionate champion of Wiradjuri Preschool for the last 12 years, from the time he was a UC student himself.
From prac placements in his second year, to full-time employee, to Centre Director, he’s seen generations of children come through.
“As soon as I did my first prac, I’ve just known that this was my place, these are my people – this is my home,” Adam says.
Teaching hadn’t always been on Adam’s agenda – he originally started out studying criminal psychology at the Australian National University (ANU) – but it wasn’t long before he was drawn to teaching and transferred to the University of Canberra to begin a Bachelor of Education (Ages 3 – 8), from which he graduated from in 2011.
He also has a long history of sharing Indigenous perspectives. As a Biripi man, originally from Bathurst, NSW, Adam must work with particular sensitivity to ensure he upholds respect in sharing stories of the land, while on the land of other ancestral owners.
“In late 2012, I started branching out a bit and doing some consultancy work with schools around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in their curriculum,” Adam says.
“I wanted to support them to understand that they don't always need an Aboriginal teacher in place to do really great things when it comes to exploring culture in Australia.”
During a brief hiatus from teaching, working as Director of Early Childhood Learning at Reconciliation Australia (RA), Adam was embedding cultural learning into schools at a national level. Despite it being a great role, he still couldn’t help but feel that he was needed in the classroom.
“I was really excited about the prospect of being able to have a national impact, my work would be used in thousands of schools and other learning services. I was enjoying the work there, but I was like – I’m missing teaching already, I've got to be in the classroom,” he says.
Adam is a people person and a natural storyteller, so it’s no wonder he longed for the face-to-face connection with students. Despite what he brought to the role at RA, in his heart he knew he belonged in the classroom.
“I can sit down and run a learning experience with the children here and just feel like we're sharing a moment. I love knowing that these children, at this time are being changed – they’re learning and growing,” Adam says.
The Bunyip and the Stars was born from a million little shared moments. A tale of adventure that started in the classroom at Wiradjuri Preschool has turned into a nationally available children’s book –at its heart though, Adam says, is a story about the values that drive us all.
“The Bunyip and the Stars is a ripping yarn about family and connection to Country.”
On a starless night Wumbirr leaves the safety of the campfire and is captured by
the fearsome bunyip. Ngariin will need everything she has learnt about the bush
and her Country to rescue her little brother and escape the bunyip.
Part Sky Country creation story, part exciting adventure tale, The Bunyip and the
Stars is the first in a series of five picture books featuring stories from Australia
inspired by the National Museum of Australia’s new immersive play space for
children – the Tim and Gina Fairfax Discovery Centre.
The Bunyip and the Stars is now available for purchase. Visit https://shop.nma.gov.au/products/the-bunyip-and-the-stars
Story by Kelly White, photographs by Tyler Cherry