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Wenona: In This Together

The theme of National Reconciliation Week, ‘In This Together’, was an opportunity for our community to reflect on the past and consider how we can collectively improve our future.

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This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the reconciliation walks of 2000, when people came together to walk on bridges and roads across the nation to show their support for a more reconciled Australia. For Wenona, it was an opportunity to think about how we can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia, starting with an Indigenous puppet show produced by Kindergarten to raise awareness about reconciliation to our Woodstock students and a thought-provoking Principal’s Assembly on Tuesday

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Community and Service Learning Prefect, Madeleine (Year 12) explained why National Reconciliation Week is important. “It’s a week when Australians learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and explore how we can each contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. Originating 20 years ago, where in a monumental display of support for reconciliation, around 250 000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, this week is significant for all Australians as it allows us to reflect and better understand our past so that we can consider how to improve things for the future.

Hence, this year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week is ‘In This Together’. This theme is now resonating in many ways. It emphasises how all Australians, Indigenous or not, have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation. In playing our part, we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.

So, how can this be achieved? Reconciliation Australia’s vision of national reconciliation is based on five critical dimensions: race relations; equality and equity; institutional integrity; unity; and historical acceptance. We can achieve reconciliation through education, acceptance of past wrongs and being respectful towards Indigenous culture and traditions.”

As Madeleine pointed out, it’s important to remember that reconciliation is not limited to this week, rather it is a continuous effort. She finished up by quoting Karen Mundine, Chief Executive Officer of Reconciliation Australia. “Reconciliation isn’t a single moment or place in time. It’s lots of small, consistent steps, some big strides, and sometimes unfortunate backwards steps.”

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Emma (Year 12) reflected on her Service Learning trip to the East Kimberley region, where she had an opportunity to meet with members of the local Indigenous community. It raised her awareness and understanding about the importance of reconciliation.

“My understanding of reconciliation was shaped by my Service Learning trip to Kununurra in 2016, where I had an opportunity to participate in a range of activities, including a visit to a local women’s shelter. It was a place for Indigenous women and children experiencing domestic violence to stay. Talking to women in this community was invaluable in helping me to understand their culture, and the value and importance of having a population with such a long-standing heritage and connection to the land.

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During our trip, we were able to provide the shelter with home-cooked meals, and afterwards, we raised funds to build a roof over the shelter’s courtyard. Not only was this experience highly rewarding, but it broadened my understanding of the wider Australian community and how my role in reconciliation can shape that.

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It’s been four years since my trip to Kununurra, but my Service Learning group still fundraises to support the shelter. It’s important to us to play our part in supporting a safe environment for vulnerable women and children there. While we can’t see the effects of our fundraising efforts from 3,800 kilometres away, we understand that our continued fundraising is a way of moving us closer towards reconciliation because it brings our two communities together.

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To me, reconciliation means we seek to reduce the pre-existing inequities and discrimination and achieve a country where the quality of an individual’s life is not based on their racial background. Each of us has a role to play in closing the gap and moving forward together. We are all in this together. Reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between diverse communities to achieve a reconciled Australia, and we can all play a part in doing this.”

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Community and Service Learning Prefect, Grace spoke about the importance of raising awareness and understanding about different cultures. “We are privileged to attend a wonderful school that offers us so many opportunities, but it’s important that we acknowledge this. When we encounter people from different backgrounds and cultures, it’s easy to form opinions of them based on stereotypes. In Australia, deep-rooted prejudice has defined some people’s understanding of Indigenous culture. I would encourage you to celebrate this ancient, and often misunderstood, culture and re-evaluate any preconceived opinions you might have.

If this global pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that people are simply people. We’ve all gone through a period of adversity during lockdown, but I hope that we will emerge from it, wiser and more resilient. As we celebrate National Reconciliation Week, I challenge you to draw on this resilience and wisdom and use it to gain a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture.”

Grace also asked students to reflect on some of the learnings from Australia’s recent bushfire crisis. As she said, historians like Bruce Pascoe have recently highlighted what we can learn from traditional Indigenous land management techniques, which have been successfully used to safeguard the environment for tens of thousands of years. By deepening our knowledge and understanding of one of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures, we can move towards reconciliation.

As Director of Community and Service Learning, Ms Seale voiced her own opinions on reconciliation and her personal view on recent mining activities in Western Australia, which led to the removal of a 46,000-year-old rock shelter. “It demonstrates how far we have still to go in respecting and honouring the values and traditions of the oldest continuous culture on earth. The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people who had fought for the preservation of this site for the last seven years, are devastated. Not only did the site provide a 4000-year-old genetic link to today’s traditional owners, showing continuous human occupation through the last Ice Age, it also contained bone pits and grinding stones dating back 46,000 years. So not only is this of invaluable significance for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, it is a site of critical national and global importance.

Reconciliation is about changing this mindset. It is about every individual, organisation, business and government not letting this happen. Not even contemplating this. We can do better. Reconciliation is about understanding how lucky we are that Australia has Indigenous culture, and celebrating, honouring and preserving this without appropriation. It is about appreciating and recognising that it is Indigenous Australians who understand and can teach us how to care for this land as they have done for thousands of years – the recent bush fires should have taught us that. It is about fairness, about hearing and listening to all voices and concerns, teaching indigenous languages and Aboriginal Studies in our schools, accommodating difference and negotiating and supporting rather than policing. More than ever, we need reconciliation for us all, mobilising all the wonderful resources with which we are so blessed – human and capital – so we can work together to find a secure and mutually beneficial way forward in this time of uncertainty and change.”

All the different viewpoints, ideas and opinions provided our students with plenty of food for thought. Across the School, students were encouraged to reflect on Indigenous culture during Pastoral Care time. This included an opportunity to watch the award-winning documentary, In My Blood It Runs.

National Reconciliation Week. We’re ‘In This Together’.