By Cheryl Bauer
Six years ago we began an annual visit to Pipalyatjara in the far north west of SA, for eight Year 10 students and two teachers driving in a mini-bus to the APY Lands.
Teacher Brian Wicks had taught at Pipalyatjara in the past and maintained friendships within the community. In commencing this venture our aim was to develop close relationships with that community and learn from each other. Our students visit the school each day and assist with learning programs and at the same time enrich their own learning with Aboriginal culture and personal relationships.
This year was the sixth visit and the community did special things for us because they also value the relationship that has developed. Elders came in from the Lands and asked the boys to take off their shirts, painting their bodies with ochre and teaching them traditional dances and ceremonies. The teachers there had never witnessed this before, so it was special for them too.
Earlier this year, Josephine Mick, senior artist at Ninuku Arts, and her daughter Sally Scales, teacher at Pipalyatjara, took up an artist in residency at St John’s Grammar School. They set up in the library to allow the whole school to participate in the creation of an Aboriginal dot painting that was symbolic of the relationship with us. A Year 10 Art class were closely involved in this program, contributing to the large art piece and developing their own dot painting with their own dreaming story. In fact, Year 12 students who study in the library contributed dots to the painting and felt that it was their artwork. Most visitors to the library during that week painted as well.
Josephine learnt that our emblem is an eagle and coincidentally it is also her totem. The painting shows Josephine as the elder eagle looking over all of her fledgling eagles and demonstrating the growing relationship between our two communities. This beautiful dreaming painting now hangs in the library where everyone can see it.
Our students return with a clear understanding of what it means to be an Aboriginal Australian and are committed to assisting with Reconciliation. Three students who had experienced this APY Lands visit wrote a Reconciliation Plan for St John’s Grammar School in 2011. Currently there is a more recent group who are working on updating this Reconciliation Plan. These students have visited staff meetings to enlist the support of teachers, spoken at school assemblies, joined the Blackwood Reconciliation Group and been involved with Reconciliation SA. They are passionate ‘movers and shakers’, leading our school community. In fact, the drive to continue with reconciliation persists after school and many old scholars are active participants in the Reconciliation movement.
Our experience is evidence that real relationships are powerful and effective in leading the way to a more positive future for all.