Walk for Reconciliation in birthplace of public education

Macleay Valley students came from the mountains, the river, and the sea to walk for Reconciliation today on Dhungutti Country. Linda Doherty reports.

School children watching a group of Aboriginal dancers. School children watching a group of Aboriginal dancers.
Image: Hundreds of school children from across the Macleay Valley came together to walk for Reconciliation.

Dhungutti Elder Graham Quinlan gave a traditional welcome to 1,500 students who replied in unison “Yawayi, Hello Uncle”.

The students aged from five to 18 from 15 Macleay Valley public schools walked through cleansing smoke in one of the largest student Reconciliation walks in NSW, and the biggest held in Kempsey since the late 1990s.

Alfred Drew, president of the Macleay Valley Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), said it was heart-warming to have all the local public schools represented.

“This is the epitome of Reconciliation, coming together, two different cultures, to reconcile and move forward for the next generation,” he said.

The students planted a sea of hands, a symbol of Reconciliation, watched as the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian flags were raised, and listened to the national anthem played on a gum leaf. Gum leaf playing is an ancient skill dating back thousands of years.

An Aboriginal Elder and and a young Aboriginal woman. An Aboriginal Elder and and a young Aboriginal woman.
Image: Dhungutti Elder Uncle Bob Smith and Dhungutti woman Tayla Iverarch, Melville High School captain.

Kempsey students like Tayla Iverarch, school captain of Melville High School, now learn and speak the local Dhungutti language, but for many Elders, forbidden to speak their language, their experience of education was of exclusion.

Kempsey South Public School Executive Principal Paul Byrne said the local public schools educated most of the area’s Aboriginal students and “amazing teachers and staff were not afraid to tell our kids about the past”.

He paid tribute to the Elders present as the “keepers of knowledge” who had inspired the student Reconciliation walk organised by Kempsey South Public School Early Years Transition teacher Auntie Vicki Willoughby, and Aboriginal Education Officers Sam Drew and Auntie Kim Daley.

Auntie Vicki, a Wiradjuri woman, asked the students to be proud and respectful of their Elders, acknowledge their suffering and life lessons, and “be brave enough to stand up for them and for each other”.

“Today we celebrate Reconciliation as a public school community. Today we walk as one,” she said.

Kempsey Shire Council Mayor Leo Hauville, a former teacher and principal at Macleay Valley public schools, said around 13 per cent of the town’s population of 30,000 people were Aboriginal.

“We acknowledge the past; we acknowledge the mistakes ... the future is in the faces of the boys and girls here,” he said.

Students from the two high schools – Melville and Kempsey – were joined by primary schools from Aldavilla, Bellbrook, Crescent Head, Frederickton, Gladstone, Green Hill, Kempsey East, Kempsey South, Kempsey West, Kinchela, Smithtown, South West Rocks and Willawarrin.

Kempsey has a special significance in education as the first public school, Kempsey National School, was established there in 1848. The Department of Education observes 175 years of public education in 2023.

School students with a sea of cardboard hands. School students with a sea of cardboard hands.
Image: Students planted a sea of cardboard hands as part of the Reconciliation walk.
  • News
  • 175 years
Return to top of page Back to top