Always Was, Always Will Be

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12 November 2020

Aaron ken, Archie roach, Brenda matthews and Rachel nordlingerOver the last few years, the Indigenous Matters Team at Catholic Regional College, North Keilor, has been expanding students’ engagement with the stories and culture of First Australians. This NAIDOC Week, the team has gone above and beyond to ensure that students across the Year 7–10 school are engaging with the theme ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’.

For principal Tullio Zavattiero, it’s about genuinely living out the core principles of Catholic social teaching. ‘The dignity of all human beings matters. We are equal in the eyes of God, which means we should treat each other with absolute acceptance, respect and compassion.’

‘Our Indigenous brothers and sisters have often felt that their dignity hasn’t really mattered, that they haven’t experienced a genuine respect for their culture and customs even though they are proud to share these with us.’

The school arranged for the students across each year level to engage with an incredible line-up of Indigenous leaders, including:

  • Archie Roach singing and speaking about his life as a Stolen Generations person
  • Kutcha Edwards singing and speaking about his life and culture
  • Josh Cubillo speaking about why NAIDOC Week is celebrated
  • Brenda and Mark Matthews, with Brenda speaking about her life as a Stolen Generations person
  • Aaron Ken speaking about youth empowerment
  • Rachel Nordlinger speaking about Indigenous language
  • Mark Yettica-Paulson speaking about history and culture
  • Donna Stolzenberg (Victorian of the Year 2021) speaking about her charity work.

‘All these speakers have in some way connected with themes that our students in different year levels have been learning about’, said Moira Mullan, Religious Education leader.

Moira also emphasised the relationships that the school is building with these significant Indigenous voices. ‘We started with Josh Cubillo who is embarking on his PhD at Melbourne University and we’re creating an ongoing link with him. We’ve worked with him over the last few years now and the school will actually be part of his PhD. Our direction in the future is all about supporting and walking alongside our Indigenous brothers and sisters.’

‘This year allowed us to expand in different ways than we would have in the past, which is really opening up our eyes to what we can do in the future as well. We are going to try to have these people back, hopefully in person at some stage in the future. We will be building on what they have to offer us, knowing that education is the most important thing if we’re going to change our world’, said Moira.

The school’s efforts this year are on the back of previous years’ efforts to build lasting relationships with First Australians as part of a commitment to the ongoing work of reconciliation.

The travel restrictions this year prevented an immersion. ‘We would have had our first student immersion to Cape York with Red Earth, which is committed to working with Indigenous people and ensures that all funds go back to support local Indigenous communities. We would have been on First Nations land, directly working with and helping people in that area. So, we’re hoping next year we’re able to add that to our list of activities throughout the year’, said Moira.

Deputy principal Brendan Hallinan, who is also part of the Indigenous Matters Team with Moira and Mary-Anne Bratovic, said: ‘We want to encourage a heightened awareness of Indigenous matters with our students, our staff and, even more so, the collective community, and to recognise and acknowledge the achievements of Indigenous Australians.’

The commitment runs deep in the heart of the school and couldn’t be prevented even with this year’s limitations. ‘Our college is committed to raising the profile of Aboriginal culture and history both within the curriculum and in extra-curricular opportunities’, said Brendan.

‘We introduced new student leadership roles of First Nations Ambassadors this year, to further emphasise the importance the whole school places on our students understanding Aboriginal culture and traditions. Furthermore, we are looking for an Indigenous artist to paint a mural on a wall visible from inside our chapel and one of our wings is named after Simon Wonga. Essentially, we believe that it is our responsibility as educators to do what we can to ensure that our students are informed, by providing opportunities for them to hear the stories and know the truth of our country’s Aboriginal heritage.’

On Friday, students and staff will be encouraged to wear red, yellow and black as a fundraiser for the Opening the Doors Foundation, which supports Indigenous education in a way that suits the children.