Mater Dei Catholic Primary Blakehurst students have found new appreciation for their aboriginal connections through an artwork and cultural performances unveiled during the schools NAIDOC Week celebrations.
The school’s eight aboriginal students worked with Regional Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer Emma Peel from March to produce a whole school painting that acknowledged their heritage and community aboriginal connections.
Students, staff and community elders all had a say in what was represented in the painting, which was blessed by the school’s parish priest Fr Isidore at the assembly.
The school’s parents and guests were blessed with ochre when greeted in aboriginal language by Emma’s mother, an elder, at the at the school gate ahead of a special assembly that started with an acknowledgement of country and smoking ceremony.
Students also embraced the NAIDOC Week theme ‘Because of her we can’ by writing stories about the lives and contributions of aboriginal women they admired.
It felt really special because … everyone got to see our culture.
Stuart McMinn, a Queensland Wakka Wakka man and member of Sydney Catholic Schools Performing Arts (CaSPA) team told stories his grandmother had taught him. He and used clapping sticks and hunting boomerangs as instruments for parts of the music.
“It was very meaningful for the school community,” said Mater Dei’s principal Anne Melrose.
“I had a lot of feedback from the parents and aboriginal guests that were there, talking about how moved they were, what an authentic experience it was, and how it is so important to who we are as a group.
“It was lovely. Emma’s mother marked each person with ochre as they came into the school and said ‘yaamah’, which means welcome. It was a way of welcoming them to the ceremony and a nice symbol of inclusion.”
Mrs Melrose said the assembly may become a springboard for further educational programs, with dance – storytelling through movement – a possible way for the school community to move into a deeper understanding of aboriginal people and culture.
The school’s librarian and diverse learning needs teacher have helped to grow the school’s Indigenous education opportunities so far, and with it a strong sense of identity.
Year 6 student Eadie Hurley and Year 5 students Mia and Lily Dimento are all of the Bundjalung nation.
“It was really fun to see our culture and learn about our language,” Eadie said.
“In our class we could write about someone who inspired us. I chose to write about Cathy Freeman. I like running and she likes running too. She came from a poor family and had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where she is now.
“Uncle Stu taught us a dance and he was telling us a few words. It felt really special because it was our first time to celebrate NAIDOC week at school and we got to do a dance and everyone got to see our culture.”
It was very meaningful for the school community.
Mia said she and the others performed welcome and farewell dances for their peers. She wrote about Emma Peel as the aboriginal woman that had inspired her by teaching her about aboriginal life in the past, including cooking and how to make natural paints.
“I liked it because there were lots of things we didn’t know that we learnt,” she said. “I think it’s important to celebrate NAIDOC Week because for other people it teaches you more about aboriginal people.
“My favourite feature in the artwork is the meeting place in the middle of it because it represents everyone meeting at one place – the school.”
Lily said she enjoyed working together in a group to finish the school’s aboriginal painting. Her favourite feature was a section that looked like a wave covered in dots.
“I think it’s important to celebrate NAIDOC week to say sorry to the aboriginals for how they separated their children from the aboriginal people,” she said.