This week Australians join together in celebration of Reconciliation Week, which starts on the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum and ends on Mabo Day. The theme for 2021, ‘More than a Word-Reconciliation Takes Action’ urges us to take up the challenge to make a difference.
At St John the Evangelist Catholic High School, Nowra, six Aboriginal and 18 non-Aboriginal students across Years 11 and 12, have embodied the 2021 theme by enrolling in Stage 6 Aboriginal Studies.
Introduced to the NSW syllabus in 2004, Aboriginal Studies aims to develop students’ knowledge and understanding about the historical and contemporary experiences of Aboriginal peoples. It also aims to explore the concept of ‘shared histories’ with a view to enabling students to be active and informed citizens in promoting a just society for all Australians.
In 2020, Year 12 student Jasmine Hair was awarded second in NSW for HSC Aboriginal Studies and first place for a non-Aboriginal student studying the course.
Lynette Kelly, the Year 11 Aboriginal Studies teacher at St John’s, believes the inclusive education and opportunity for awareness offered through the course will help develop true reconciliation between the cultures.
“Teaching Aboriginal Studies at St John’s is a privilege. It’s rewarding to see the impact it has on both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and staff,” said Ms Kelly. “So many times, through my lessons I hear and see students astounded by the past and present experiences of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their desire for change.
“The most common statement I hear from students who have completed the course is - ‘I can’t believe Aboriginal Studies is not compulsory. What we learn in this subject, everyone should know’.”
Built on Yuin country, St John’s has strong connections with the local Aboriginal community and encourages both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students to embrace the culture and history of the land to strengthen relations and promote reconciliation. Aboriginal Education Assistants are employed to work with students and help develop cultural awareness, while Elders and members of the Aboriginal community frequently attend school events. In a true sign of reconciliation and inclusion, the schools' Indigenous Dance troupes consist of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students.
Recently, Year 11 students enrolled in Aboriginal Studies revisited the topic of the 1967 Referendum.
Click below to hear what they had to say:
For reconciliation to continue throughout our nation, it's important to learn from our shared history, and move forward together to build a more just and inclusive society for all.
The Stage 6 Aboriginal Studies course has had a profound impact on all students enrolled in the subject. Read what some of the students shared below:
What the students said:
I believe that non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal students learning Aboriginal studies as a collective is an important and valuable part of our evolving society. At St John’s we have built a community based on peace and support where the students have the opportunity to work together to learn about what is needed in our society as a collective and move forward as one. - Alexis Yr 11
An obvious effort is put into the school, through the acknowledgment of important dates, staff support, the delivery of Aboriginal Studies. The topics our class chose to explore for our major projects (Circle Sentencing, Criminal Justice Systems, Stolen Generations) demonstrate reconciliation is a clear priority in practice as both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students are passionate about this. - Ryley Yr 12
I believe that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students learning Aboriginal studies together brings us closer to reconciliation. By both groups learning about the culture, it shares the experiences that Aboriginal people have had, and still have today, and makes it easier for non-Aboriginal people to understand the hardships that Aboriginal people face. The course helps shine a light on issues that impact both cultures and ways that we can put an end to those issues- such as stereotypes and racism.- Courtney Yr 11
I like how it’s involving everyone. As I am an Aboriginal man, it's a sign of all working together - Seth Yr 11
Catholic schools across the Illawarra, Macarthur, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands are enrolling now. It’s the perfect time to discover why 1 in 5 Aussie students attends a Catholic school. Find out more about the Catholic school difference, or ﬁnd a Catholic school near you, and enrol today.