In the middle of the hustle and bustle of busy school life at St John the Evangelist Campbelltown now lies a beautiful raised green space, surrounded by paved gardens and splashes of vibrant colour. Logs, rocks, mats and pillows all decorated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designs and artworks provide a fitting tone for the school's new yarning circle and serene garden area.
The Macathur primary school celebrated the official opening of its yarning circle on Wednesday, with students, teachers and local Elders enjoying the new space alike.
The area has been immaculately landscaped and grassed, and enclosed by a garden of young bush tucker plants for the children to enjoy and learn about. Adding creativity and colour was a whole-school effort, with the students painting the rocks lining the garden and planting the greenery, while staff members adorned the surrounding bollards – all to encourage a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and a practice of speaking and listening to each other from the heart.
"The garden is a good way to show our respect for Aboriginal culture. It's a great place to share stories and be together" — Gwen and Vivianne, Year 5 students, St John’s Campbelltown
On the land of the Dharawal people, the school paid its respects to Elders past, present and future – custodians of culture, dance and storytelling. Local Elder, Aunty Joan, and CEDoW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Professional Officer, Karan Taylor, were invited to cut the ceremonial ribbon on the new area, and a blessing was bestowed by Parish Priest, Fr John Ho.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the school then gathered in the yarning circle with Aunty Joan and other aunties present to use the space exactly how it was intended – to have a yarn, share stories and discuss the history and significance of this cultural tradition.
“In Aboriginal culture, yarning and storytelling are very important,” Mrs Taylor explained. “Yarning is an informal conversation that is culturally-friendly and recognised by Aboriginal people as meaning to talk about something or someone, or provide and receive information.”
“A yarning circle is a learning space to share knowledge and stories. It’s a harmonious, creative and collaborative way of communicating to encourage responsible, respectful and honest interactions between participants, build trusting relationships and provide a safe place to be heard and to respond” — Karan Taylor, CEDoW Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Education Professional Officer
The St John’s yarning circle was made possible with $3,500 in funding from a NSW Environmental Trust Eco Schools grant – a program supporting environmental management projects that promote learning opportunities for students, teachers and the community – as well as additional funds from the school and the St John's Parish community.
St John’s Year 5 teacher and Wollongong Environment Network School Contact, Samantha Seweryn, was successful in obtaining the Eco Schools grant for the project.
“Our yarning circle was an idea that came from our former Aboriginal Education Assistant, Dannielle Grados, and our former principal, Tina Murray. We set out to make a difference in our school community in the way we think about sustainability and our connection with God’s creation. Today that dream has become a reality,” she said.
“This garden is something we have worked towards for two years. It features many different native plants including edible ‘bush tucker’ plants, as well as recycled timber logs for seating, artworks completed by our students on totem poles and rocks, and real grass, which is a treat for our students at St John’s” — Samantha Seweryn, teacher and WEN contact, St John’s Campbelltown
"To create this inspiring space where students, teachers and community members can gather, we were assisted by the NSW Government through its Environmental Trust, Bunnings Campbelltown, and our supportive parish led by Fr John and Fr Felaki. I also thank Jane Webb, our principal, as well as staff members, Amanda Polsen and Jenny Shembri for their support in the creation of this wonderful meeting place," Ms Seweryn said.
Principal Jane Webb thanked those in attendance for joining them to celebrate this special occasion for the school, including local Elder, Aunty Joan and representatives from the Catholic Education Office including Karan Taylor and CEDoW Wollongong Environment Network Coordinator, Beth Riolo.
“This yarning circle garden provides an opportunity for students, staff and community to come together and share stories, carrying on the rich tradition of storytelling,” she said. “We look forward to making use of this space in many aspects of our school life.”