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Wurundjeri Experience on Country for Preshil Staff

On Monday 24 April 2023, twenty-four Preshil staff members from across the whole school joined together to be guided to explore insights and reflections on Indigenous Australia and some aspects of this in relation to the country our school is standing on.

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The day was very beautifully and gently presented by Brendan Murray and supported by guest speaker Deano Thomas.

Brendan began the day by unpacking Acknowledgement of Country and the strength and political honesty that this statement affords both First Nations and allied partners in recognising the truth of our colonial history, whilst paying respect to the long and ongoing history of traditional custodians. After this participants were encouraged to consider the following:

  • Acknowledgement of Country, whilst sounding like a list of statements should always be spoken from the heart and with reverence. Time should be taken to give weight and meaning to the sentiment and care taken to truly acknowledge the length, duration and resilience of First Nations people particularly in reflection on the impact of colonialism. An impact which continues to haunt these people through generational trauma and impacts health, resilience, societal positioning, opportunity and disproportionate incarceration levels.
  • Knowing whose country you are on. We were reminded of the Wurundjeri Peoples and watched a video about the sacred spaces around our area and the traditional songs and dances belonging to this community. Brendan shared his pride in his daughter’s participation in this local female dance group and the manner of acceptance shared with them by the Wurundjeri people
  • Unpacking the five nations of the Kulin Nations and the importance of these people, the link in language and some stories and the reason it is important to know about these interwoven countries.
  • The history of our school and the role the buildings played in housing stolen generation young women, the recent healing ceremony and the meaning behind this ceremony, and Brendan’s daughter’s investigation and coordination of this for her personal project.

Brendan then shared his own story, reflecting on assimilation policies, social challenges, and forced movement from his ancestor’s country to government-designed spaces where First Nations peoples could be monitored and controlled. Brendan shared insight into the challenge of identity as a result of government policy and the ongoing trauma of having a culture interrupted so completely and dismissively due to colonisation.

Staff were invited to share their wonderings about the day, the First Nation’s culture and the complexities of being culturally sensitive when adding a First Nation’s perspective to learning when you are non-indigenous.

Using a Yarning Circle and listening from the heart. Staff spoke with humility and honesty about their own experiences, their personal challenges, their fears and concerns with each other. Brendan guided discussions and answered questions to ensure an understanding about the value of owning our own cultural awareness journeys, of being active in engaging the Wurundjeri Council to answer educational questions rather than being afraid and avoiding the call to ‘do something’. It was a really humbling experience to speak from the heart and to be guided from the heart by Brendan and I think all staff felt a connection to each other in our similarities and differences through this session.

After a shared morning tea, bought in by staff, we then met and spent some time with Deano Thomas. Deano is a proud Nonngar man from WA, a comedian, radio announcer and the voice and story behind a new animation series that is about to get bigger than its web-based presence.

Deano shared with us the story of his childhood, growing up with a single mother and three siblings, in a small town in WA where his lighter-coloured skin and poor background saw him judged and ridiculed as a child. Deano shared his self-reflections and realisations that he felt driven and destined for greatness from a very early age and that ‘X factor’ saw him succeed where many do not.

He shared his animation series and allowed staff to question, probe and unpack how this insight would be of value in their practice. Deano was warm, funny, genuine and vulnerable and his gift to staff was overwhelmingly felt through his honesty and insight.

Deano’s animation series: Childish Deano has received funding through Screen Australia and is about to be investigated through an international stage as he visits interested producers in the USA.

You can watch his animations here, be sure to subscribe to support this amazing talent and hero of resilience. Many staff commented how infectious Deano’s energy and message about believing in self was, and feel it would be great to have him spend time with our students if the opportunity could be afforded.

After the session with Deano, staff were provided catering through Mabu Mabu Bar and Kitchen. Mabu Mabu is an indigenous-owned food business on a mission to make native ingredients the hero of the Australian kitchen. They believe that food is one of the greatest ways we can share both culture and community. The company is owned by a Torres Strait Islander chef and operates out of Fed Square. 

Staff enjoyed trying some of the following treats:

  • Desert spiced seasonal veggie patty, saltbush chimichurri, aioli and salad greens marinated chicken slider, saltbush chimichurri, aioli and salad greens  
  • Kangaroo sausage roll, pepperberry barbecue sauce 
  • Emu “ebur in blanket” with barbecue sauce 
  • Dolmades, macadamia finger lime cream, crispy saltbush 
  • Portobello stuffed mushrooms, finger lime macadamia yam paté, tamarind chutney.

After a beautiful lunch on the grounds of our BK campus, together in the sun, we said goodbye to Deano and set up for the afternoon session

During the afternoon, Brendan provided us with a variety of podcasts, some provocative and heartwarming stories and texts or the option to just be with each other as we set off to Dight Falls.

Dight Falls, where the Yarra River meets the Merri Creek  is a traditional meeting place for the Kullin Nations and the heartland of the Wurundjeri people. Meeting in the carpark of this Abbotsford location, we moved together to the Koorie Garden, a small space created to mark the history of this sacred place. Here Brendan told us about the trade and ancient traditional significance on the ground we were standing on. 

About 100 metres from the Koorie Gardens is a flat grassy field and the site of the land used in the 1840s by the ‘Protector of Aborigines for the Melbourne region’. On this small expanse of land, the Wurrunndjeri people and visiting Aboriginal groups were managed and controlled, children were schooled and services distributed as the protectorate saw appropriate. Back in the day, the site would have been teaming with people who had little freedom, access to facilities and limited access to other places for cultural ceremony and expression. Being on this site and listening to Brendan’s narrative was moving and thought-provoking.

At this point, staff were provided time to be in the space, listen to podcasts, each other, or just be.

Overall the day was gentle but confronting. There were moments of sadness, wonder, disturbance, humour and grief. Staff were immersed in learning that was both personal and interconnecting, and the reflections shared indicated great appreciation for the time given to this very important and ongoing conversation.

We are grateful for the opportunity to have explored aspects of our local and national history, the gentle wisdom of our facilitator and presenter Brendan Murray, the humour and vulnerability of guest presenter Deano Thomas and the gastronomical experience provided through Mabu Mabu. We are grateful to each other for coming to the space, open to accepting our own flaws and limitations and keen to participate in the journey as we grow on this RAP pathway together.

Thank you for making this happen. We look forward to the continued development of our understanding and capabilities as teachers and members of the Preshil staff.

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