'This week, in the grounds of little Clyde Fenton Primary School in Katherine, a beautiful symbol of unity and change was born. Positive stories are so important to share but I was struggling to put the enormity of experience and feeling in to words to meet the capacity of facebook. Instead, I have posted a 'Thank you letter' that I sent to the school after the event. I hope this captures the essence, for those of you interested.
I received feedback from the school the next day after the letter was received, with sincere words of gratitude for those that made this happen. The school leaders value the traditional learning they received and now are intent to do whatever they can to seek funding to bring Cultural Education as taught by local Elders in to the school curriculum. They will lead the way for change.
Ripples are being felt within the community of Katherine and parents of students who have heard about this experience at the school have put their hands up to support the seeking of funding.
Next week an article will share this story in the local newspaper. I have been reminded to persist, even when it feels difficult and remain in the joy of the experiences as change and unity is possible! The letter read.......
"Dear Clyde Fenton School leaders, teachers and students,
I wanted to put words to paper, to formalise the gratitude expressed by many for the opportunity this week in bringing Nelly Camfoo and Miliwanga Sandy in to the school to facilitate Traditional Cultural Learning through the building of a Galawu. My letter may be too lengthy and for this I do apologise. I struggled to exclude detail, for it was the detail that created the significance of this project.
The project itself took four days. Two days of preparation and two days facilitation in order to teach the children of Clyde Fenton School, how to build a ‘real to life’ bush shelter, a Galawu, for all the school to enjoy.
For Nelly Camfoo (aged 84) and her granddaughter, Miliwanga Sandy, who is the chairperson for the Barntjarl Strong Women’s Council, the days of preparation opened the time for the women to feel in to the request from the school and the significance of being invited to share their history, skills and sacred ways of teaching and living.
The women talked of their sense of purpose and the value of their sharing and this opportunity to create cultural exchange and understanding in the school.
On the first day as the ladies sat under the rotunda, they commented, “This space feels as if it’s been built as a traditional space for learning and sharing cultures.”
As every class came down to the rotunda and sat with the ladies, the flow of traditional learning developed. There was sharing of significant artefacts, from a time when Aboriginal people lived as deeply connected to Country and knew how to survive and nurture themselves both physically and spiritually. When protocols and ceremony created structure and safety and where a level of wisdom and knowledge about the interconnectedness of nature was taught to all the children. This was in Nelly and Miliwanga’s life times.
It was a delight to watch every class from the tiniest children in pre-school, through to the Year 6 children sit, engaged and with respect as the ladies talked.
The children listened as the ladies weaved each of them individually into the making of the Galawu. A bringing together of every child and teacher in the school (even Mr Dave was roped in) to be part of creating a symbol of togetherness.
The workshops didn’t just become about a physical bush shelter or a cubby to play in during lunch time and a history lesson about how people lived before houses. The Galawu became a symbol of working together to create something to be looked after.
And whilst it might not be a permanent structure, that to take care of it and know everyone is responsible for it, is a beautiful lesson and gift to all.
In my career, I have been involved with corporates and government organisations as they pay huge amounts of money to have facilitated ‘team building’ activities that establish and strengthen the values of organisations. What I experienced with Nelly and Miliwanga and with the whole school, in my humble opinion, was superior in many ways.
The significance of the blessing through the smoking ceremony and the handing over of the Galawu to the school was a treasured experience. Perhaps the significance would not be noted by all and might just be an interesting experience of sharing of culture.
However, to those two ladies it became a moment where the past met with the future and it was recognised how times have changed. It was such a privilege to be part of.
Nelly and Miliwanga spoke afterwards of how it was in their life time when they were not allowed to enter in to ‘white fella’ schools. That they were considered part of the ‘flora and fauna act’ until the 1967 referendum, when they became acknowledged as human beings in Australia. That for Aboriginal people, speaking language was not only forbidden but shamed. That expressing culture was not allowed and they would be punished for cultural activity.
To see Nelly Camfoo, as an old lady, who is the last of the Rembarrnga tribal law women, who is a holder of a number of ceremonies, sing out to the ancestors and use her clap sticks as she led the leaders of the school through the smoke and around this Galawu, with the whole school following, it felt like a symbol of change.
I honour you Craig (Principal) and Donna (Assist Principal), for taking our great little school on this journey. You have done something in Katherine that I would suggest may not have been done before. Certainly according to Nelly and Miliwanga it hasn’t. Well worth a Katherine Times article
Miliwanga said it was a day for Unity.
I saw all our Indigenous kids stand proud in their culture and watch those two ladies with admiration and respect. I saw a few selected kids that had been personally asked to look after the Galawu stand tall with responsibility.
Even that one little fella, who unfortunately had been cheeky in the playground the day before and was rude to the ladies and made to apologise, was called over to Miliwanga the next day. She hugged him and said words of encouragement. I would bet that little boy won’t forget that story as he grows.
I was the only adult that stood with the children and watched all of the teachers up the front as you were each blessed and asked that the ancestors watch over you as wise, important teachers. Those ladies truly honour each of you.
And the gift of the community kids singing at the end of the day, the perfect closure. We drove away from the school that afternoon, with a warmth of heart.
Nelly said to myself and Miliwanga in the car and I think this perfectly and aptly sums up my many words in an attempt to capture this experience….
“My girls… we done good work in that school. My girls... that was a big story!”
Thank you again Craig, Donna and all the teachers and students of Clyde Fenton Primary School.
I hope that this experience opens the door for more Traditional Learning opportunities and that someday in the near future, the value of traditional cultural education across Australia, as taught by Elders in the community, is recognised, valued and funded, for all our children now and in to the future.