115 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from four Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese (CSPD) schools have come together at Bede Polding College Windsor for a memorable Hawkesbury Cultural Immersion Day, helping them better understand and identify with their cultural background.
Drawing on the experience of educators from CSPD’s Jarara Cultural Centre and supported by senior Bede Polding College students, primary students from St Monica’s Primary Richmond, Chisholm Catholic Primary Bligh Park and St Matthew’s Primary Winsor engaged in a range of cultural activities including art, dance, weaving, storytelling from the Dreaming along with a bushtucker and didgeridoo presentation.
“We have over 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids from nearby schools here at Bede Polding College,” said Year 12 student Maddison Rodwell. “To have this experience in the Hawkesbury is so amazing, including a smoking ceremony with Uncle John (Hunter). All the Uncles and Aunties passing on their knowledge through the generations has been really beautiful.”
“We have had so much fun,” said Chisholm Catholic Primary student Corben Taylor. “I’m so glad that I get to share my culture with other students from different schools.”
Bede Polding Principal Mark Compton said cultural Immersion as a learning activity provides students with the opportunity to experience another culture in a safe and accessible way and that he was proud to see the cluster of Hawkesbury schools supporting young Indigenous people.
“I think any opportunity that we as educators can do to really foster and promote that has to be a good thing,” Mark said. “To see young people and the joy and enthusiasm with which they’re embracing the day is heartwarming.”
The workshops were led by members of the Jarara Cultural Centre including Youth Officers Ayoola Shogunle and Taleishah Councillor as well as prominent cultural presenters from across Western Sydney. Uncle Brendan Moore taught students about bush tucker, traditional dance and plants.
“This is something Aboriginal people have been doing for thousands of years,” Brendan said. “Our culture isn’t alive unless we’re practicing it and passing it on. So what we witnessed today is our younger generation going through a smoking ceremony and understanding the reasons why they do it. They took control of that by grabbing a leaf, putting it in for smoking and welcoming themselves. It’s a very powerful thing to do that culturally, but also within themselves.”
Every student contributed to four large canvas murals based on the common theme of The Dyarubbin (the Nepean/ Hawkesbury River system) and each school took ownership of one of the artworks to take back to their communities.
“Today has been really awesome,” said St Matthew’s student Thomas Burton. “We’ve just finished our first rotation that included different groups learning art, weaving, bush tucker and lots of other things.
“We’ve been learning so much from all the activities,” added St Monica’s student Nicholas Suter. “I liked hearing about all the Aboriginal spirits and symbols which Aunty Julie told us about. And the bush tucker and dancing with Uncle Brendan was also great.”
Having taken on the added responsibility of driving the bus to collect students and staff, Bede Polding College Principal Mark Compton welcomed everyone ahead of the traditional smoking ceremony.
“Today is also Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day,” he said to the crowd. “I think it’s very fortuitous that we gathered together today so we get to journey and celebrate our shared culture.”
The Bede Polding leadership team provided students with morning tea and a sausage sizzle lunch organised by hospitality students while parents were also invited to observe the rotation of activities for their children and gain insight into the cultural experiences provided.
“Today was the best day of my life,” said Corbin.
With thanks to Catholic Schools Parramatta Diocese.