Students bring reconciliation art and poetry to Sydney streets

Five Sydney schools are showcasing art and poetry on school fences as part of the Pathways to Reconciliation Program.

13 November 2020
Five students and an adult stand outside looking at artwork hanging on the school fence. One student is pointing to an artwork.
Image: Sharing knowledge: The fence-side art gallery allows students to share their understanding of reconciliation with the whole community.

At five Sydney schools this week, passers-by have been treated to an exhibition of beautiful student artwork on the importance of reconciliation and caring for Country.

Proudly displayed on street-facing school fences, the artworks and accompanying poems are the fruit of Reconciliation NSW’s Pathways to Reconciliation Program, held at Tempe, Kegworth, Newtown, Fort Street and Bourke Street public schools.

The program was held in each school over three sessions. First, in a Caring for Country session, Aboriginal educator, Uncle Jimmy Smith, took students out into the neighbourhood to teach about the trees, plants, local waterways and traditional land uses.

Next, Aboriginal educators, Kerry and Maci Johnson, held a yarning circle where students talked about Country, identity and reconciliation, before learning a eucalyptus leaf dance and Connecting to Country ceremony.

Thea Butler, of Reconciliation NSW, said the program was a personal journey for the students. “It’s about how the kids are expressing themselves, giving them a way of connecting themselves to Aboriginal culture,” she said.

She said the students’ artworks and poems were a way of capturing their personal feelings about reconciliation. While the fence-side art gallery allowed them to share their newfound knowledge and understanding with the whole community.

Newtown Public School principal Abbey Proud said the program had been a transformative experience for the school.

“Uncle Jimmy and Kerry were our guides in understanding the importance of creating a relationship between our students and the Country we learn on each day. As a result, we have fundamentally changed our practice in learning about Aboriginal culture,” she said.

“We truly understand that seeking to have a deep connection to the land genuinely connects us with a way of understanding Aboriginal culture as the foundation for real and lasting reconciliation.”

The program was designed to encourage not only intergenerational learning from Elders to young people but also from the young to the rest of the community.

Freya, a year 5 student at Newtown Public School said the program had been a great opportunity to connect with and appreciate the land they stood on.

“We've used the knowledge from Uncle Jimmy and Kerry to pass on to other people so they can share it and then those people can share it. So the knowledge goes on and on forever," said Freya.

Four students from the program have gone on to become finalists in the Caring for Country; Schools Reconciliation Challenge this year with their moving and insightful poetry and art entries.

The Pathways to Reconciliation exhibition can be viewed by the whole school and local community throughout NAIDOC week and beyond, at:

  • Unwins Bridge Rd, Tempe

  • Tebbutt St, Leichhardt

  • Bourke St, Surry Hills

  • Norfolk St, Newtown and

  • Wattle St, Ultimo.

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