Posted by Br Rick Gaffney FSC on 5 May 2021

An opportunity of a lifetime was provided to students from Southern Cross Catholic College, Redcliffe, when they took part in an immersion to learn about local indigenous history and engage in indigenous culture. Cherbourg is visited each year as a place of indigenous historical significance.

Eighteen Year 10 and 11 student volunteers spent 29-31 March 2021 as a part of the annual College Cherbourg and Barambah Cultural Immersion. The College, across all streams of the curriculum, is committed to its journey to strive for excellence in Indigenous Education through heightening cultural identity, maintaining high expectations, promoting active leadership, and building strong community relationships. The Brisbane Catholic Education's Molum Sabe Indigenous Education Strategy aims, in addition, to bridge the gap in learning achievement and exceed learning expectations for each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learner in the BCE community of schools.

Br Rick Gaffney, Program Leader of the College "Garanyali Unit", said:

"Cherbourg is the largest Aboriginal community in south-east Queensland, and it is the place where the Queensland government forcibly removed Aboriginal people from all over Queensland and New South Wales. The Aboriginal community there has established the Ration Shed Museum which has interactive displays, educating about its history, and the contribution of Aboriginal people since the late 1800s."

Displays also highlight the injustices experienced by the Aboriginal people of the area as a result of the Aboriginal Protection Acts, which were enforced from the 1890s through to the 1960s.

The final two days of the immersion were spent at the Barambah Environmental Education Centre, located in the Barambah State Forest. There, students learned how local Aboriginal people in the area used to live. Activities experienced included identifying and tasting bush food from the forest; viewing Aboriginal art painting and culture; seeing boomerang and spear throwing. There was also star gazing and learning aboriginal names and stories linked to the stars, clearing the forest of noxious weeds, and  reflective prayer and "Dadirri" an Aboriginal mediation activity.

Br Rick said the immersion opens students' eyes, both indigenous and non-indigenous, to the history of the region. "This is a unique experience for our students, one that very few Queenslanders have the opportunity to be a part of. Our students gain a greater awareness and appreciation of Aboriginal culture and experiences over the last 50,000 years," he said.  "Students also greatly increase their understanding of the suffering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who for hundreds of years had their basic human rights denied to them after the arrival of the Europeans."

Year 11 indigenous student, Haley Ashton-Stark, was grateful for the experience of a lifetime:

"I have learnt so much about the history of my culture and the triumphs of my culture as well," Haley said. A visit to the Ration Shed Museum might seem boring at first but once you take a closer look, you find all the hidden stories about the past. It makes you think how far the nation has come in creating peace for the indigenous population. I walked away from this camp knowing more about the tools, stories and traditions of my culture and that is something that I will take with me forever."

After returning to school, students work together to find ways to share their understanding and experience with others in their cohort, aiming to bridge the gap, instil respect and value diversity.


Author:Br Rick Gaffney FSC
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