It is understandable that many non-Indigenous educators feel nervous about teaching Indigenous history, culture and knowledge to their students. One way to tackle this, if funds allow, is to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators into the school.
Moreland Primary School took this approach last year with the radical program ‘Future Makers and the Merri Merri Creek’. The brainchild of parent Sarita Gálvez, the interactive program came into being with $140,000 from the State Government’s Pick My Project community grants initiative in 2018.
It started in early 2019 with a professional development day for all school staff, which included educational walks to Merri Creek – led by Merri Creek Management Committee – and a guided talk at Bunjilaka, Melbourne Museum.
“I think that day changed the perspectives and enhanced the knowledge of a lot of staff,” says principal John Williams. “Personally, I learnt more about Indigenous history and culture that day than I have ever learnt before.”
To kick off the program for students, Wurundjeri Elder and educator Uncle Bill Nicholson and Wurundjeri dancers, Djirri Djirri, provided Welcome to Country activities for the whole school. Then, with the school divided into Preps and Years 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6, each group undertook the program for five weeks.
“Every Monday at about 11am, a class group would head to the local neighbourhood house where we based the program,” says John.
“Educators would then take the kids, teachers and volunteer parents down to the creek for the afternoon.”
A different curriculum was delivered to each year level, through the overarching lens of Indigenous knowledge, art and science.
“The focus was really around appreciation of Country; what exists on Country near here – the history, the animals and plants – and taking care of it,” says Year 5–6 teacher Natalie Schilov.
Teacher and program coordinator Carley Ternes says she was amazed by how engaged the kids were throughout the program. “They loved time at the creek. They loved learning about the science of what’s around them. They took it way further than I thought they would.”
One example was a dance and book initiated and produced by the Year 1–2 group, after learning about the short but eventful life of the rain moth. Upon finding out about the moth’s transformation from grub, one Grade 1 student exclaimed, “I can’t believe all of this is happening so close to my house!”
John recalls another student turning to Uncle Bill during the smoking ceremony and saying, “I want to thank you for bringing this to us”.
“Uncle Bill had tears in his eyes and said no-one had ever thanked him before. It highlighted to me what an impact it was having on the students,” John says.
When asked if the program has boosted their confidence in teaching Indigenous perspectives, the teachers unanimously and enthusiastically nod their heads.
“The knowledge that we’ve been introduced to because of the journey we went on last year has completely changed my thinking and confidence in terms of teaching,” says Carley.