“It was definitely an awesome experience being with these Noongar people – so much love for this land!”
That is how a Cyril Jackson Senior Campus Year 11 ATAR student described a recent cultural journey to a significant site, Yagan Memorial Park, led by local Nyoongar Elder and businessman, Walter Mcguire and Director of Bindi Bindi Dreaming, Marissa Verma. An overriding aim was for students to consider how we can progress Reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians using five interrelated requirements of a truly reconciled Australia as outlined in The State of Reconciliation in Australia (2016) report published by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
Essential to the first requirement of a reconciled Australia, diminishing racism, were the two-way relationships built on trust and respect which developed from the valuing of each other’s experiences on this cultural journey. Opinions such as the following indicate how deeply participants thought about this dimension.
‘Living in Australia is about knowing who we are, and part of that is living in harmony with the first peoples here.’ and ‘It is about being interested in sharing cultures, looking for similarities and respecting differences.’ The clue is ‘spending more time and asking so many more questions so that they could share so many more of their thoughts with us.’ For his part, Uncle Walter exhorted students to remember how precious is the land which they have had to leave and how culture and language maintenance is essential for their identity. All agreed that we ‘especially need to know the best ways to end racism between us.’
‘As newcomers to this land we have to know everything related to Australia. Today I learned so much about Noongar people. I now understand more about their culture and about their hardship as well.’
Many hopeful signs of increased equality and equity, critical dimensions of a reconciled Australia, were attested as students directly interacted with two very successful Nyoongar people: Walter McGuire (GoCultural) and Marissa Verma (Bindi Bindi Dreaming) who own and operate their own businesses. Amply demonstrated were participating in employment, health and educational opportunities and positive examples of culture-sharing when students learned of Nyoongar work in conservation and land management, the notification and reintroduction of threatened species, the medicinal values of plants and even the High Court challenges around land use such as the Beeliar wetlands. ‘It restored our faith learning that so many people out there are doing amazing things in the community and believing that if a critical mass of people get involved then we would make huge positive differences.’ Equity requires the encouragement of self-determination, pivotal to which are recognising and upholding distinctive individual and collective rights such as hunting and gathering traditional food. Marissa showed many examples of food gathering and explained how the Noongar 6 seasons were centred on the abundance of food in specific places and particular times.
Students also learned about a time when Aboriginal people were being excluded from life opportunities as equality and equity were not central to government policies. ‘The excursion helped me better understand the hard life of Aboriginal people during the time when they had less opportunities’ declared one. Another said: ‘it made so much more sense hearing about these things from them, personally, rather than googling it on the internet’. Naturally, students were ‘very happy to learn about companies and organisations established by Aboriginal people to improve their living standards.’
‘On Country’ – Cyril Jackson SC endorsed students experiencing the Nyoongar love for this land.
In actively supporting this excursion Cyril Jackson Senior Campus, Bindi Bindi Dreaming and GoCultural demonstrated business and community support which exemplified institutional integrity, a third dimension required for reconciliation.
To meet the fourth requirement of historical acceptance (that all Australians understand and accept our nation’s history including the wrongs of the past in order to ensure that these wrongs are never repeated) students heard first hand experiences of the impact of past wrongs including the policy of taking children away from their families. They agreed that ‘we need to know about historical problems as well as the problems faced today.’
Questioning descendants of the stolen generations ‘was most important’ and provided ‘answers to things (they) wanted to know –some evidence and some proof.’ ‘The story of the grandmother who suffered trauma, constantly living with fear in her heart because of the tragedy that happened to her as a taken-away child resonated with refugees who know how hard it is to live in fear.’
One student observed: ‘It was amazing to me that even though so much damage had been done to families as a result of the stolen generation policy, the families we met just wanted to live peacefully with their families.’ Today ‘showed me too that all Aboriginal people are not the same and that even for those who may react inappropriately there is likely to be a reason behind that.’
Students examined the story of Yagan depicted in the mural by Sandra Hill and ‘understood how hard the Nyoongar people have fought to survive and to keep custodianship of their land’
You’ll agree that students took a massive step towards the fifth interrelated dimension, unity. While the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in their Report (2016) conceptualise unity as valuing and recognising Aboriginal culture and heritage as a proud part of shared national identity – what it means to be an Australian one of our newest members of the Australian community indicated how this might work in practice: ‘we need to become more responsible for, more understanding of, those things or places which are so important to them such as conserving their land.’ As one student concluded: ‘It definitely showed how much the Indigenous people are willing to share their pride, not only their pain. They have so much to be proud of and we should be proud of it too.’
Students concurred that such excursions should be an integral part of our curriculum. Do you agree?
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