Making connections through culture

Menindee Central School is bringing its community together by sharing stories.

Students at Menindee Central School perform a song, The Place I Call Home, they have written in language.

A cultural program at Menindee Central School is bringing greater understanding among non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal members of the community.

Menindee Central School, on Barkindji Country, holds a Connecting to Country workshop as part of its professional development for all staff and community at the start of the school year.

“It’s a great way to start the year,” Menindee Central School executive principal Fiona Kelly said. “We are all out of the classroom, all together and being a Connected Communities school having community input is so important.”

Ms Kelly said the three-day workshop, run by the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), was key in building relationships as it involved everyone who worked with the school including counsellors and the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service.

“People who are new to the community see our Aboriginal leaders and it begins to develop a positive attitude to how we work together,” she said.

“We have kids teaching language songs and making Johnny Cakes and throughout the program we are positioning our Aboriginal staff as leaders.”

Ms Kelly said the program varied each year but would include activities such as artefact making, and hearing local history from those in the community.

“The important thing is it’s not history from way back, it’s things the people here now have lived through,” she said.

Participants are asked to bring something of significance to them and Ms Kelly uses this opportunity to show her father’s exemption ticket.

“My father had to have this to leave the mission, so he could get a job,” she said. “People are surprised to learn about this and how recent it all is.”

Ms Kelly said one community member, whose grandchildren were at the school, had just begun talking about his experiences at Kinchela Boys Home.

“Talking to the group gave him an opportunity to be seen as a leader in the community and that really felt good for him,” Ms Kelly said.

“I think it’s about empowering each of our Aboriginal staff.”

Another effective ice-breaker was a speed dating with community event where participants moved around talking to members of the school community and senior students about their experiences.

“For some teachers it can be the first time talking to an Aboriginl person who is not from the school,” Ms Kelly said.

Knightlamp Psychology managing director Stephan Friedrich, who works with Menindee Central School, was among the participants in this year’s event.

He said the impact of the Connecting to Country workshop had been profound.

Writing after he returned to his Adelaide home he said he realised to do effective work alongside Aboriginal communities “I needed to be more than ‘informed’ about the mechanics and impact of transgenerational trauma”.

“I needed to feel it, my face reddened by the Menindee sun and my ears grateful for the sounds of strange birds and beautiful songs.

“I needed to hear the stories from people who lived them, laugh with locals until my gut hurt, taste foods that grew here long before the zucchini in my garden, and walk on dirt still damp with the tears of history.

“White ‘professionals’, even those of us with good intent and open hearts need to see the wall and make attempts to take it down, or at the very least peer over it.”

Ms Kelly recommended schools do Connecting to Country workshops and said it was important to speak to their local AECG if they were interested.

“I know it can be hard to find the times, but that’s why we do it at the start of the year,” she said.

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