Learning to listen to the First Peoples and what they want from reconciliation was an important theme of the all-day Inter-school Social Justice Forum held at 130 Lt Collins St, which was attended by 55 students mostly from years 9 and 10.
A highlight of proceedings was the interaction with Indigenous artist sisters Karen and Rosie Bird, from the eastern Anmatyerre community 200km north-east of Alice Springs.
The sisters have been spending a week at Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School (PEGS) conducting art classes and interacting with the students.
They are aunties to the school’s chaplain David Hall, whose sister has been a long-time teacher in the region.
Mr Hall said the students had been “super-engaged” by having the visitors.
“Just spending time with Aboriginal people is very important,” he said.
“Reconciliation becomes real when you have a relationship. These two are very dear to my heart as is the whole Bird clan, the more I time spend with them the more important it gets.
“Students can learn about reconciliation in theory or they can spend time with Aboriginal people.”
PEGS Year 10 student Charlie Worsfold echoed this sentiment and said that the day at Lt Collins St had been important in helping him see things from the point of view of Aboriginal people.
“It’s given me a better education and knowledge of their culture and what the First Peoples actually want from us,” he said.
Charlie said he had learnt in one session how a government’s attempt to improve Aboriginal people’s life through various programs had failed because they hadn’t listened to what they actually wanted.
“It’s better to talk to the Aboriginal people than make your own assumptions,” he said.
The Inter-school Social Justice Forum is organised in a partnership between the Justice & International Mission unit and Uniting Church schools.
The schools taking part are Scots Albury, Penleigh and Essendon Grammar School, Methodist Ladies’ College, Kingswood College, Wesley College and Cornish College.
Each sends a maximum of 10 students to take part in the forum, which will have a follow-up day in August.
JIM campaigns and communications manager Cath James said the forum has different themes each year.
“We look at the structural injustices that underlie a lot of these issues and help the students feel empowered to make a difference,” she said.
“We always do some sort of role-playing game where students can immerse themselves in the experience of being disadvantaged or discriminated against or some form of injustice. It’s a very experiential learning program.
“It’s also important to have a response time writing letters, or preparing school assembly presentations putting into practice what they have learnt in some way so they can take that forward.”
Ms James said the students themselves will lead the next reconciliation Forum day to be held in August.