Tharawal kids make Deadly connections

Aboriginal education is a priority at Tharawal Public School where students and Elders created an Acknowledgement of Country. Glenn Cullen reports.

Students dancing on stage. Students dancing on stage.
Image: Students performed a Deadly dance as part of NAIDOC Week celebrations at Tharawal Public School.

With a husband whose family hails from Dubbo and four Wiradjuri children, Tharawal Public School Assistant Principal Nicole Sweetman has a ready-made passion for Indigenous learning.

It made perfect sense for her to take up the role of Co-ordinator, Aboriginal Education, at the school in Illawong in Sydney’s south.

Last year, she got the chance to add another element to the program when the school’s Deadly Kids got together with their Elders to create a dedicated Acknowledgement of Country for the school.

It was launched with a special ceremony ahead of NAIDOC Week.

“The day was about connection to our Elders,” Ms Sweetman said.

“What we are ultimately trying to do here is create connection, understanding and education around Aboriginal education.”

With the guidance and support of Aunty Calita Murray and Aunty Olivia Patten, the school created a celebration of culture and a profound expression of Aboriginal heritage.

Commencing with a smoking ceremony performed by Aboriginal Elder Dean Kelly, students, parents, teachers and guests gained a deep understanding of the cultural significance of the ritual which symbolises the purification of the space and pays homage to the ancestors and spirits of the land.

Following the powerful opening, the Deadly Kids took to the stage, showcasing their remarkable talent and passion for their culture.

They performed a dance to represent their connection to the land and ancestral traditions. They also provided insight into their personal journey throughout the process of writing the Acknowledgement of Country.

All students then united in a display of unity by singing a song in the Dharawal language. It was a powerful gesture that demonstrated the school's commitment to cultural diversity and served as a deep acknowledgment of the importance of language preservation and revitalisation.

The morning’s activities were just a snapshot of Aboriginal education at the school, which also acknowledges Reconciliation Week and Sorry Day but goes for a deeper dive on a weekly basis through its embedded programs.

The Deadly Kids have some of their own classes with separate learning goals that fit into their broader education.

“What I have learnt from all these processes is the importance of consultation and real connection with Aboriginal community – going beyond the superficial,” Ms Sweetman said.

Students perform a dance. Students perform a dance.
Image: Tharawal Public students join in a rendition of ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ in Dharawal language.
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