Whale of a time as students connect to country

A local creation story plays a starring role in embedding culture at a south coast primary school. Kerrie O’Connor reports.

Image: Connecting to coast and country: Warilla North Public School students with Windang Island in the background.

Just an island? Not if you speak to the children at Warilla North Public School.

They know Windang Island plays a starring role in the creation story of Gang Man Gang, along with the whales who ply the Illawarra coast.

As they do each year, students shared the story of Gang Man Gang earlier this month through dance, drama, art and singing.

Principal Nicole Riley said the story had become an essential part of learning at the school, with the whale now the official emblem on Aboriginal-themed uniforms.

“Each year the students proudly present their interpretations of Gang Man Gang,” Ms Riley said.

“The whole community comes together to celebrate the students' achievements. Kindergarten enthusiastically performs their understanding of the story through dance.

“Stage 1 use a variety of medium to recreate the story through artwork. Stage 2 showcase the story through drama and Stage 3 write and perform an original song.

“It is a wonderful experience for all involved.”

This year the program was enriched by the support of local high school students.

The day after their art performances, students travelled to Windang Beach to learn more about Gang Man Gang, and the geography of Windang Island.

"At last we went to Windang Island … [and heard] the story; it was so good” Chenoa McFadgean, of Year 2, said.

For classmate Star Rogerio, the visit was the “best day in my life; I love cultural connections".

Kindy student Bonnie Arrowsmith was engaged by all the activities: "I loved the smoking ceremony and dancing like a kangaroo. At Windang Island I loved making johnny cakes."

Ms Riley said the school, which is on the land of the Wadi Wadi Five Islands Dreaming people, had been embedding the local story into learning for several years.

“This cultural connections’ journey was always about empowering teachers to be confident in addressing Aborginal perspectives into teaching,” Ms Riley said.

“More importantly the journey always was, and always will be, about our kids being able to embrace, understand and share their local stories.

“The students at Warilla North really are the holders of this story and will continue to pass on this story as a part of the fabric of our school.

“We look forward to continuing the cultural connections journey for years to come.”

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