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On October 21, 2018, Ms Stephanie Cabbot and I were invited by Mark Porter from the Anglican Synod to share some of the highlights of our Reconciliation Plan. I am pleased to share with you some of my speech.

Good afternoon distinguished guests, my name is Frances Zubreckyj and I am the Indigenous Programme Coordinator at St Peter’s College. To give you some context, St Peter’s College has eight Indigenous students from Halls Creek, Derby and Broome in WA, Darwin and the Tiwi islands in the NT and Victor Harbor, SA. Our boys from Western Australia catch three flights every term to get to school. This usually takes about 12 hours.

Since I took on the role of Indigenous Programme Coordinator, I have worked hard to ensure students and their families are given the best support academically and emotionally. Many really struggle when they first arrive. I remember one of our Year 7 students on his first day cried and cried. He found the blazers itchy, his feet felt tight in his black school shoes and all he wanted to do was feel the earth between his toes. He used to take off his shoes each day after school and I would hear his sigh of relief. He would tell me about hunting turtles and that he couldn’t wait to see the ocean again. For him being at Saints was like being on another planet. That young man is now in Year 11 and loves Saints, but those early days were really tough.

When I took on this role, my aim was to ensure that every boy who has been entrusted to us is looked after. My goal has always been to love these boys as if they were my own, and to give them the courage to walk tall, be proud of their culture and feel as if they belong at Saints. For some this takes a little longer, but I think every one of our boys knows we will do whatever we can to support them. This year we had two young students arrive from Darwin. Their mothers really needed support and would ring me every day for the first month. They missed their boys and having someone to reassure them that their sons would be looked after was very important.

The Indigenous Program has developed and come so far in such a short amount of time. Some of our actions on our Reconciliation Plan include:

  • Hosting Cultural Awareness workshops for all staff.
  • Setting up a mentoring program for the boys. Elder Uncle John Lochkowiak has become a key mentor to the boys and has guided me on many tricky occasions when only men’s business can be discussed. I’ve called Uncle John late at night, when we have had difficulties. Having an elder as a dear friend and mentor is an important aspect of any successful program.He conducted Welcome to Countryceremonies and conducted the SmokingCeremonyat our special Reconciliation Weekmuster this year in front of all of our students. All but one of our students spoke to the students and staff about Reconciliation and what it meant to them. This was extremely powerful and filled me with such deep pride as these boys declared who they are to our whole school. They would not have been able to do this unless they felt safe and loved.
  • Ensuring significant days are celebrated, including a Reconciliation Breakfast and the Yaitya Tita’s, Aboriginal Youth Gathering where the Premier Mr Stephen Marshall & His Excellency The Honourable Hieu Van Le spoke to the boys about being a leader.
  • Football royalty, Stephen Motlock and Gavin Wanganeen, spoke to the boys about making the most of the wonderful opportunities they have been given as well as being great role models for their own communities. They encouraged them to take back some of the skills they’ve learned to other students in their communities. They also spoke about how education is a generational change.
  • Attending Naidoc dinners, hosted by the Smith Family.
  • Indigenous artists in residence have worked across both campuses.
  • We have performed plays about racism and bullying, and Indigenous musicians and dancers have performed to all students in the Junior and Senior Schools.
  • Academic support structures have been put in place. Invariably most students are behind in literacy and numeracy when they first arrive at Saints, so these support structures are very important.
  • We have established a partnership with Adelaide University Marni Wingku Programme, and set up support structures for our students wishing to attend Adelaide University post school.
  • Late last year, Deputy Headmaster and Head of Senior School, Ben Hanisch and I applied for a grant to provide an intensive literacy programme called Maq Lit, devised by Macquarie University. We would like to thank the parishioners of Clarence Park Parish for their generosity and grant. This program has made a huge difference to our student’s literacy levels and indeed their lives.
  • Each year we engage in the Indigenous Football Round against Rostrevor College. This year we gained permission from Sir Douglas Nichol’s family to name the trophy after this great man. In 2019, Saints will once again host this round and hopefully win back the trophy.
  • We have also set up a Jukurrpa (Dreamtime) art studio at Saints so that students can create beautiful artworks. It is open to all students and is wonderful to see the room full of boys painting and being creative on weekends and after school.
  • We also provide Indigenous students with the opportunity to apply to the AFL Academy, SASTA Basketball Academy and as of next year STEM Academy. I have also made contact with Adelaide University to ensure transition pathways for our Indigenous students through their Wirltu Yarlu- Marni Wingku programs.

All of these initiatives would not be possible without leadership who are totally committed to this program and supporting me in my role as Indigenous Programme Coordinator. I would like to thank Ben Hanisch for his deep wisdom and knowledge in working with Indigenous students. We have come so far, but still have so much more to do.

Lastly, I would like to share a conversation I had with one of our Year 12 students. I encouraged him to get his learners permit when he returned home to Derby. He said he couldn’t as he had lost all his documentation and possessions in a house fire. I was gobsmacked, no one knew about this. I spent the next few lunchtimes with him, contacting the WA Births, Deaths and Marriages, and we completed a renewal birth certificate form for him. A few weeks later I received a text message from him where he asked if he could see me straight away. When he came to my office, I could see he was waving something in his hand and he had the biggest, most beautiful smile on his face. He said “Mama Z, I have my birth certificate. I’m a real person now.” I told him he was always a real person and I burst into tears. This was the most powerful moment in my teaching career and one that deeply touched my heart. We take for granted these things in life and don’t realise how important such a small thing like this is to others.

St Peter’s College also recently announced Hugo Hart as the School Captain for 2019, an Indigenous student from Victor Harbor. We couldn’t be more thrilled for him and for the School.

Over the past 18 months, it has been a privilege to be the Indigenous Programme Coordinator. I believe we have made such great progress and created momentum in the right direction. I will be retiring at the end of the School year and know the great work the team and I have put in place will continue. This role has given me enormous pleasure. It has been extremely rewarding to work so closely with the Indigenous boys and their families. They are destined for great things. They will leave their thumbprint on this world and my heart forever!

Goodbye and God bless

Frances Zubreckyj
Indigenous Programme Coordinator