Kids are obsessive creatures. At the moment my five year-old is hooked on the ABC animation Little J & Big Cuz. If you don’t spend a lot of your time overhearing children’s television programs, let me explain: Little J & Big Cuz follows the adventures of the title characters, aged five and nine, in their outback community. Little J & Big Cuz live with Nana and Old Dog (who has caused debate amongst my kids as to whether he is actually talking out loud or the audience just happens to be privy to his musings). As described by its creators: ‘Little J and Big Cuz are busy with the ups and downs of playground and classroom. There’s always something surprising going on, whether it’s at school, in the backyard or beyond… With the help on Nanna and Ms Chen, Little J and Big Cuz are finding out all about culture, community and country.’ It is the first Australian animation aimed at an Indigenous audience with almost exclusively Indigenous characters. It was created by Indigenous director Tony Thorne and written by Indigenous writers from across the country. The cast features celebrated actors such as Deborah Mailman and Miranda Tapsell.
While the show may be aimed at a young Indigenous audience, it has picked up a significant number of non-Indigenous viewers like my son, who was introduced to it at preschool, where there has been a strong focus on Indigenous culture and history recently. For example, the kids recently experienced an Aboriginal smoking ceremony and now begin each day with an acknowledgement of country. My son doesn’t view Little J & Big Cuz as a show about Aboriginal people. He views it as a show about people. He doesn’t seem to have a partition between white and black cultures, instead he relates strongly to the character of Little J because they are both five and interact with the world the way five year-olds do. The show is important foremost because it gives Indigenous kids the opportunity to see themselves reflected in story, something intrinsically valuable to all children and young people, but its impact on non-Indigenous kids cannot be overstated.
Storytelling is vital to human experience because it gives the gift of empathy. It allows audiences to view the world through the eyes of someone else. It breaks down the barriers between ‘us and them’, barriers which cause unending amounts of suffering throughout the world and all human existence. It demolishes modes of dehuminisation.
While watching Little J & Big Cuz I cannot help but contrast my son’s childhood interaction and experience of Indigenous culture and history with my own. I, like many of us, was a kid in a time before welcome to country statements were introduced in a significant and widespread way. My first earliest memory of learning about Aboriginal culture is a lesson in year two about why there is an Aboriginal man on the two dollar coin, I don’t remember anything after that until year six when an Indigenous elder visited, showed us how to throw a boomerang and played the didgeridoo. He spoke about how men were allowed to play, but not women. Most of the student chatter afterwards was about how sexist he was.
Australian history was taught through the lens of white experience: Captain Cook founded our country, the ‘first settlers’ were a bunch of white blokes who arrived in boats and carried guns. In year eight there was a brief module in history class about the suffering inflicted on the Indigenous population by the early settlers. It was an awkward, stilted chapter in our history textbook. (Fortunately it was my art teacher who gave the most powerful and vital insight into Indigenous history and experience. She did it through artworks, most significantly Gordon Bennet’s Outsider.)
By contrast, my son is taught about the impact of white settlement on Sorry Day, he is given the opportunity to be immersed in Indigenous stories and culture, he can recite the story of how birds got their colours whenever we see a rainbow lorikeet. He does not view Indigenous people as victims, instead he is educated in their history beyond the genocide which was suffered at the hands of white man. He sees Little J as like himself: a five year-old boy who likes adventures. He knows Little J’s life is a bit different to his own, but these differences bring curiosity rather than animosity in a way which can only be achieved through that most vital part of human experience: story.
The work in healing the wounds inflicted upon Indigenous people by white man is not done and probably never will be, but stories like that of Little J and Big Cuz are a vital ingredient to the process.
Little J & Big Cuz can be found on ABC2 and iView. More information can be found at https://www.littlejandbigcuz.com.au/