Schools The art of conversation

Art teacher Suzanne Pascoe and students discuss her donated painting by Gloria Petyarre. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Albert Park College art teacher and passionate artist Suzanne Pascoe was inspired by a recent visit from Koorie elders as part of Marrung, Victoria’s ground-breaking Aboriginal education plan.

Embracing its message of inclusion and vision for a curriculum that actively celebrates 50,000-plus years of culture, she realised she could take direct action. An avid collector, Suzanne owned two incredible Aboriginal artworks that she had no space to hang. Instead of gathering dust in horse stables under tarps, the works will now hold pride of place at her school, sparking important conversations.

“When I saw that one of Marrung’s ideal requirements was to have Indigenous artworks in school for students to look at and engage with, I thought, ‘Well, what is the point of having them at home in storage when they can be in the school environment and students can benefit from them?’”

“I think it’s really exciting and probably long overdue to have a comprehensive program like Marrung.”

Sitting together in a bright breakout space overlooking the school’s central courtyard, it’s clear that Suzanne is passionate about the subject. “I think it’s really exciting and probably long overdue to have a comprehensive program like Marrung.”

A four-panel work by Gloria Petyarre, The Mountain Devil Lizard Dreaming (1996), has been hung just outside the school’s performing arts space. Another long-term loan, an untitled work by renowned artist Ginger Riley, is so big they’re currently figuring out where it can make the most impact.

“They were just gathering dust at home, so it brings me joy to see them displayed in school and starting conversations,” she says.

Albert Park College students in front of painting by Gloria Petyarre. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

Suzanne has been fascinated by Aboriginal culture since her uncle, who was a park ranger in the Northern Territory, would talk to her about his experiences up north. In a previous line of work, she co-ran a gallery. While they did not deal in Aboriginal art, she acquired these works for her personal collection.

Suzanne hopes to travel north herself. One fellow artist she knows goes on a print-making excursion to Arnhem Land annually while another friend, a gynaecologist, volunteers in remote Indigenous communities. She says a strong sense of social justice is a common theme amongst creative types. “It’s often something that we think about and incorporate into our work.”

That passion also attracted her to union membership, and ultimately to take on a leadership role as the school’s sub-branch women’s officer. “The union really helped with some issues I had, not related to the college, and I wanted to give a little back,” she says.

AEU organiser and Women in Leadership Development (WILD) mentor Carolyn Pearce. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

She has been paired with AEU organiser and Women in Leadership Development (WILD) mentor Carolyn Pearce. “I saw the WILD program and I thought, ‘Well, this sounds really interesting, a way of empowering women with leadership skills in schools. I’m going to put my hand up for that.’”

Suzanne says it’s been brilliant working with Carolyn on an important project addressing domestic violence. “I’m not a very confident public speaker, so to present it in a nurturing environment in front of a group of women was really good,” she says.

Like the paintings, it all feeds back into the idea of promoting conversations about important topics like respectful relationships and understanding connection to country. Suzanne’s glad to play her part in this dialogue, with a little help from the AEU.

“I think the union movement is really important and I want to see new blood coming in,” she says. “I like that having the artwork here at school, with a plaque talking about the fact I’ve donated it in my role as our sub-branch women’s officer, ignites a conversation about the union too.”

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