In Week 5, along with the majority of Australians, we celebrated National Reconciliation Week at the School and I’d like to reflect on what reconciliation might mean in our context at St Peter’s College. Reconciliation Australia have identified five dimensions to reconciliation: race relations, equality and equity, unity, institutional integrity, and historical acceptance.
We are endeavouring to acknowledge and act in all five dimensions at Saints. Through our Reconciliation Committee at School under the excellent leadership of Frances Zubreckj we are working to develop positive two-way relationships between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of this community. We have a Reconciliation Action Plan that has been ratified by Reconciliation Australia and gives us clear direction and targets in terms of actions. We also celebrate the cultures and stories of our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students on a regular basis, with Reconciliation Week providing a great vehicle for us to do this.
The week began with nine of our First Nations’ students and three staff attending the Reconciliation Breakfast at the Convention Centre. The majority of these students have come to Saints as a result of our partnership with Yalari and are from all over Australia. Four of our students come from Darwin and three overcome huge logistical and emotional challenges to travel from Derby in the far north-west of Western Australia.
On Wednesday we held the Reconciliation Week Muster which began with a smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle John Lochkowiak. Marlon Motlop who is the Aboriginal Programs Coordinator and Player Welfare Officer at the Port Adelaide Football Club spoke to us about taking the time to listen to each other’s stories without prejudice. Our own Indigenous students then shared their understanding of reconciliation and where they come from – this included telling us what their totem was. It was a beautiful assembly and quite moving to see our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students stand up in front of our community and proudly tell us who they are.
The following day Gavin Wanganeen took time out of his incredibly busy schedule to speak to our students. Gavin’s main message was to make good choices in life. I found the honesty with which he talked about the end of his football career and the ensuing struggle to find meaning away from football particularly poignant. Gavin ended up finding solace and meaning through art and has become a successful artist in his own right. His work has been exhibited across Australia and he designed the footballs used across the AFL Sir Doug Nicholls Round last week. Not only has art helped Gavin find direction post football, it also has given him a greater understanding of his own aboriginality and he willingly and articulately shared his own heritage with us on that day.
The week finished on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Rostrevor as we played our own Indigenous Round game. The match began with a smoking ceremony involving students from both schools. The opposing teams stood with arms linked in respectful silence as the ceremony took place backed by the haunting sounds of a didgeridoo. The symbolism was powerful, and the game lived up to the spirit of the occasion. In a cracking game Rostrevor eventually ran out winners by just four points to secure the Sir Doug Nicholls trophy for the first time.
All of these events symbolically demonstrate our School’s commitment to achieve true reconciliation. Do we still have further to travel to achieve this? Yes, we do. Am I confident we are on the right path. Absolutely.
Pro Deo et Patria.
Deputy Headmaster/Head of Senior School