Last week I was excited to share my views on Aboriginal education in a piece for the Guardian. If you missed the piece, you can view it here.
It is always a little scary to put yourself out there but I am really glad I did. The response has been amazing! I have been contacted by teachers seeking more information about how they can include more perspectives in the classroom; parents wanting their child to have access to more Aboriginal education; and people from Aboriginal and non Aboriginal backgrounds sharing their support and views on this important issue.
Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support or shared their story with me over the last week. It is always great to hear how other people think about Aboriginal education and their experiences with Aboriginal content.
The feedback has been really positive, affirming my decision to four years ago to start Wingaru and focus on supporting schools to not only include more Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom but to change the way that we think about Aboriginal content.
The message that came through loud and clear is that there are many Australian’s seeking more Aboriginal education in their lives but are unsure how to go about it. I think part of the solution is looking for opportunities to add perspectives to units already being completed in the classroom. For example, my sons class is currently looking at toys and exploring how they have changed over time, this is a perfect opportunity to include traditional Aboriginal toys. My niece is learning about farming, it would be great to see her teacher include pre 1770 farming approaches.
The inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives is a positive no matter how you look at it. It contributes to the development of understanding and a shared knowledge amongst Australian’s about our country as well as enhances the learning experience for students - considering approaches of other cultures is not only interesting, it gives kids an opportunity to consider the world from an alternative view and critically reflect on the world they live in.
As with all change, breaking down the barriers for changing Aboriginal education will take time but it’s a change that I can already see happening.
Including an Aboriginal perspective gives students the opportunity to consider concepts from another angle as well as adding interesting content that kids enjoy.
One of the things that has become clear since I started Wingaru is that there is a lot of confusion about what exactly an Aboriginal Perspective is. Many people think of adding Aboriginal perspectives as introducing whole units of work. As you can imagine, this becomes very overwhelming when you consider how crowded the curriculum is. It is not surprising that so many teachers put Aboriginal Perspectives in the too hard basket.
If we start looking at Aboriginal perspectives as simply looking at a topic from an Aboriginal point of view, the task becomes less daunting. Adding an activity exploring the Aboriginal point of view to an existing unit of work is an easy way to add more Aboriginal content to your classroom.
The lessons on Wingaru Kids are an easy addition to existing units being taught in classrooms every day. Here are a few examples of how we can help you add more Aboriginal perspectives.
National Sorry Day is celebrated around the country each year on the 26th of May. As the day approaches, there are Australians out there who are asking why we need to have such a day. Many of these people see Sorry Day as Aboriginal people stuck in the past and not being able move forward.
How very wrong they are.
Sorry Day acknowledges the past and recognises the trauma our people went through in the past, and continue to feel today. It is an official recognition of our Stolen Generations and their stories. It is a celebration of those affected and their resilience, strength and courage.
It is about acknowledging the past and healing the resulting trauma. It is about moving forward.
The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998, following a recommendation in the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report which recommended that a Sorry Day be celebrated each year. Aboriginal communities have embraced the day to come together to share stories, connect with others and ultimately contribute to healing. Healing for those effected by past policies and healing for our country which desperately needs to accept its true history; acknowledge the suffering resulting from colonisation; and allow Australia as a nation to grow.
Sorry Day is not about guilt. It is not about placing blame on today's generation for the actions of the past. It is the people who are stuck in this way of thinking that are unable to move forward because they can’t do so without accepting the past for what it truly was.
This is where education comes in. Schools who acknowledge Sorry Day in a culturally sensitive way, contribute to a shared understanding that supports recognition and healing. If your school needs support with Sorry Day resources, please get in touch because we can help.
There are Sorry Day events taking place all over the country this Saturday 26th May. All Australians are welcome to attend these events and share in the healing. If you have the time, go and check out an event close to you.
Please be advised that this post includes names and images of people who are deceased.
Like most Australians, ANZAC day for me is a sad day but also one of celebration. We reflect on the sacrifices that people have made in the past and continue to make today, in order to keep our country safe, and we celebrate the people who made those sacrifices.
I think about my friends who have been deployed or have parents and grandparents who served and the impact it has had on their families. I think about the pride those families so rightfully feel for their generous and brave soldiers.
I often think about my friend Tracy who, as a soldier’s wife, has spent many nights not knowing where her husband is or if he is ok; not knowing where his latest deployment found him and knowing that he couldn’t tell her even if she asked. She told me once about a code they had so that if her ever called her and asked a specific question she would know he was in trouble. Apparently this is normal. I cannot even imagine a life like this.
Thankfully her husband has always returned safe. Others are not so lucky. I think of them too.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about the black diggers that defended this country even when they were not recognised as people. The men who persisted and in some cases lied about their Aboriginality to serve and stand for Australia despite the way Aboriginal people were treated. The men who returned only to be ignored and treated like they were nothing. Like their sacrifices didn’t matter. That they were beneath non-Aboriginal people.
I think about the families that lost their loved ones but didn’t get the recognition and respect that non-Aboriginal families suffering the same loss received. I am filled with anger and sadness on behalf of these soldiers and their families. But I am also filled with pride, because despite the horrendous way Australia treated our soldiers, they still stood up and fought for this country, our land.
One of the many Aboriginal people who stood up for this country is Uncle Phillip McLeod. One of Uncle Phil’s daughters, Kaylene, shared his story with me this week and I am honoured to share it with you now.
Born on 19 July 1947, Uncle Phillip was a Sapper under the Royal Australian Engineers and was 19 years old when he served in the Vietnam war. He spent 2 years fighting for Australia, serving on a ship known as the Clive Steel. He was the only Aboriginal person in the squad.
The Clive Steel was hit by two missiles during an attack from enemy soldiers. No one was killed during the attack but soldiers were understandably shaken. Uncle Phil told his family about the attack and the fear felt as the missiles ripped two big holes in the ship's side. Uncle Phil had many stories and in telling them, he shared stories of comradery and a respect that wasn’t often experienced between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in those days.
Uncle Phil returned from war with hearing loss due to the noise from the constant gunfire on the ship. He was just happy to be home safe and to be able to return to his beloved wife, Mary, his family and community.
While Uncle Phil marched in ANZAC marches over the years it was often difficult for Aboriginal Veterans because Aboriginal people, including soldiers, were not allowed into RSLs back in those days and there was a lot of backlash against Vietnam Veterans in general. Aboriginal soldiers didn’t receive the same respect and accolades as non-Aboriginal soldiers who had served along side them.
Uncle Phil marched in the first Black Digger March in Redfern in 2008. I was working with Kaylene at the time and Uncle Phil stopped by the office. I will never forget the pride in his eyes as we talked about the March. Every ANZAC day I think of Uncle Phil and his family and the pride they all showed that day. I am thankful that Uncle Phil got to experience those marches and be honoured for his service.
Uncle Phil passed in 2016.
I am honoured to share Uncle Phil’s story with you and extend the greatest of thanks to Kaylene for sharing her dad's story.
Aboriginal soldiers were for a long time forgotten soldiers. I hope that this week we have inspired you to share the stories of the many great black diggers.
Lest We Forget.
Over the last week we have been honouring Black Diggers for their service. I am overwhelmed by the response! Every single person who has served for this country deserves the highest respect and I have seen that this week. The pride the Aboriginal community has for our soldiers is heartwarming. It is great to see Black Diggers getting the recognition they deserve.
I have learnt a lot and been privileged to hear the stories of great people. I hope schools start to include Aboriginal soldiers in their ANZAC lessons and am proud of the resources we offer to support this.
I am fortunate enough to call Uncle Ken Canning a friend and am excited to share, with his blessing, one of his poems. You can download a printable version at the bottom of this post.
You will find more of Uncle Ken's work at https://vagabondpress.net/products/ken-canning-burraga-gutya-yimbama.
Author Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
Hail!! You brave men.
You gave your all,
Not for King or Queen
but for country.
in your heart.
All wars all battles,
the strong Black Diggers
stood tall proud
and gave honour
to all Peoples
of this land.
Fires of war
some came home
to be shunned
your fought for,
the brave Black Digger,
as brave as those
in our frontier wars.
You once more
were cast out by
a callous country.
allowed to speak
to those you fought
so valiantly beside.
humble Black Digger,
we your Peoples,
still amongst us,
stand tall in honour.
For at the going down
of every sun,
we shall always
BRAVE BLACK DIGGERS.
Burraga Gutya (Ken Canning)
I’m really excited this week to have our new platform, Wingaru Bubs, available to early childhood education providers. It is a digital resource centre, filled with informative, engaging and flexible resources that support educators and children as they explore Aboriginal perspectives.
The Early Childhood Education sector has undergone considerable changes over the last few years. We are recognising the important role that early education plays and regulation provides a framework which supports quality early education programs.
The Early Years Learning Framework is a national framework that was developed by government in consultation with the early childhood sector. The Framework helps guide educators to support young learners engage in educational experiences that are both engaging and give our bubs a strong education foundation.
These quality improvements are good for both educators and children. The hard work and skill that educators bring to our children’s lives every day is recognised and programs have meaning, supporting kids as they develop a sense of self and take their first steps into the education world.
The Framework requires educators to develop cultural competencies in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and strengthen relationships with their local communities. The Framework acknowledges that building this competence is a process that is underpinned by relationships, evolves over time and must involve attitudes, skills and knowledge.
When we started talking to educators and families involved with early childhood education, a common theme quickly became apparent – many educators had never had any education about Aboriginal people and felt overwhelmed when delivering Aboriginal content. So where do educators who have limited knowledge about Aboriginal people, culture and history start?
Wingaru Bubs features four sections designed to support educators with information and resources which make Aboriginal perspectives more accessible than ever. Wingaru Education recognises that education environments are diverse, both in community and approach, and because of this our resources have been designed with flexibility in mind.
The educator resources include Framework-aligned Learning Guides, making educators’ jobs easier and freeing up their time to focus on the experience and learning with our kids.
The information included in the Guides is suitable for all educators, regardless of their previous experience with Aboriginal perspectives. Each Framework-aligned Learning Guide is written in plain language and is suitable as an introduction to a subject or as a foundation for an in-depth learning experience. By creating flexible resources we can support educators of all experience levels.
Educators are further supported with a range of culturally appropriate information, fact sheets and printable resources including activity sheets, posters, and colouring sheets.
For young learners, the platform includes digital activities that have been designed to be enjoyed solo or as a group activity where children work together to explore Aboriginal content and develop skills and knowledge to support their development as individuals and their understanding of a diverse community. The exclusive videos are designed to engage visual learners, delivering information while entertaining young learners.
Our educators, as always, have done a great job putting together a collection of videos, activities and experiences that support educators and engages learners. Please get in touch if you think your early childhood education provider would be interested in Wingaru Bubs.
Our Closing the Gap activity is a free resource for primary school teachers to promote discussions on the issues surrounding National Closing the Gap Day. By facilitating a role playing activity students will gain a greater understanding of the importance of the commitments made by the Australian Government, whilst brainstorming their own solutions.
I love the excitement in the air at this time of year as teachers and students start to make their way back to school, ready for a year of learning. The possibilities of new skills, relationships and information are endless and as a parent, watching my kids come home with new knowledge to share is something I really look forward to.
Last year, I got to experience this from another perspective, that of an educator. I loved watching kids learn about Aboriginal culture and the struggle Aboriginal people have faced since colonisation all those years ago. It’s amazing how quickly young minds with keen senses of justice form opinions and seek information about how they can make a difference. I received emails from both teachers and parents sharing questions of kids who thought outside the box and were hungry for more information. I could see the impact of Wingaru Kids in changing the way we as a society think about Aboriginal people and the beginnings of the next generation having access to information that previous generations did not have. As Kev Carmody says, from little things, big things grow!
This time of year also means the ‘Australia Day debate’ is at a peak. Social media and homes around Australia are filled with strong opinions about whether or not it is appropriate to celebrate our great nation on a day that signifies the beginning of loss for our First Nations.
The debate gets heated and I feel the intent of the ‘change the date movement’ gets lost in political agendas and the passion that Aussies feel for our country. There is a lot of misinformation, making a complex issue even more confusing for kids who are hearing these conversations and trying to work out what it is all about.
Like most contemporary issues, the debate often makes its way to the classroom, leaving teachers to help kids sort through the issue and support them to form their own opinions about the day. Kids will likely join the debate mirroring their parents’ views without understanding the issue or why we are even debating the issue so strongly. After all, to many people, especially young minds, Australia Day is just about having a BBQ with our friends, isn’t it?
Wingaru Kids has a lesson to support teachers discuss this issue with their classes. Like all our lessons, there is a curriculum linked lesson plan, video, digital activities and classroom printables to help classes explore the issue, consider both sides of the debate and develop informed opinions about the issue.
We also have this free fact sheet to help sort the facts from the media hype and help students and teachers discuss the issue.
It is six months since Wingaru Kids was launched and what a six months it has been! We are now in over 100 schools and the feedback we are getting is overwhelmingly positive. Teachers are embracing our resources and confidently delivering lessons about Aboriginal culture in a way that has not been done before.
Wingaru Education was born out of a desire to fill what I believe is a missing piece in the puzzle that is improving outcomes for Aboriginal people and making real steps towards true reconciliation.
There are many people delivering great programs aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities however, while many of those programs are successfully changing lives for some Aboriginal people, the overall living, health and education outcomes for our First Nations are not improving and in some cases are even declining.
I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that no one is addressing the need for education for wider communities so that a better understanding of Aboriginal people and culture is developed across the country. And what better place to start but with our future leaders.
Today’s students will one day be leading this country and it is my hope that through broader exposure to the issues impacting on Aboriginal people, the culture we hold so dearly and the development of an understanding of the true history of this country, that those future leaders will be in a position to make better, more informed decisions and work more collaboratively with Aboriginal people and by doing so will drive sustainable change for Australia.
We have a long way to go but as time goes on, I am encouraged by the openness that many teachers have to including more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in their classrooms.
I think we ask a lot of our teachers and I am proud of the support that the Wingaru team is providing to make their jobs just a little bit easier.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.