Mrs Lynne Mungomery, Director of Service
‘oorala’ – ceremonial meeting place on a hill
The inaugural meeting of the Brisbane Girls Grammar School Indigenous Service Club was held at our Spring Hill campus on 18 February 2014. A name chosen by its members, The Uralla Club meets each Friday lunch break and membership is open to staff and students from Years 8 to 12.
Uralla, from the dialect of the Anaiwan people, means ‘ceremonial meeting place on a hill’, and under the leadership of Anna McArthur-Dowty and Josefine Ganko the group hopes to make a difference and to affect change in relation to the complex issues surrounding Australia’s Indigenous people. In her Perspectives article written last year, Anna draws attention to the significant difference in statistics relating to Indigenous life expectancy, health and education. She states, ‘Raising awareness of the human face behind these figures is important. Without awareness there can be no understanding and without understanding there can be no call to action; some things will never change.’ (McArthur-Dowty, 2013). Anna and Josefine do not wish to be referred to as a youth crusaders, but they are well on their way to making a difference.
The celebration of Indigenous culture and acknowledgement of the significant issues and challenges faced by these communities is very topical in Australian society today. Adam Goodes, Sydney Swans footballer and anti-racism campaigner, is our current Australian of the Year and our Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, last month delivered the 6th Closing the Gap report to Parliament.
Whilst acknowledging the significant contributions of the Brisbane Girls Grammar community in the past, it is now time for us to fly the flags of our Indigenous peoples — not just literally, but for our students to recognise the barriers faced by Indigenous people, to create awareness of Indigenous issues, and to educate about and celebrate their culture, so the focus can be on positive movement forward. Indigenous communities will be the beneficiaries of School Charity fundraising in 2014.
The nomination of an annual School Charity enables these goals to be shared within the student body. Under the leadership of the Head Girls, Service Captains and the Student Council, and in conjunction with appropriate experiences and support, a sense of belonging is cultivated among the students, of ownership of learning, and ability to make good choices (Dedmon and Kestler, 2010). Consistent with our School’s own Strategic Design, we aim to instil in our students a judicious and ethical engagement with the world and life-wide learning. The challenge is to establish this link through understanding and scholarly connection, not just fundraising.
‘The School is mindful of the need for students to feel connected to the service model and develop a sense of ownership to successfully drive the campaign throughout the year’ (Tudball, 2012, p. 16). Careful consideration must be given to the recipients of Student Council fundraising. Following the generous contribution to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and their Research Foundation in 2013, the importance of establishing long-term relationships with the Indigenous communities we support cannot be overlooked.
The Uralla Club and Student Council have been discussing the Indigenous issues that will be the focus of their attention in 2014. A survey of members has guided the decision to focus on Indigenous education and health areas for fundraising and awareness-raising activities.
While establishing real and worthwhile links across the school curriculum and co-curriculum is underway, the 2014 Student Council motto is ever present: Above and beyond with the Grammar bond. The Great Debate, Valentine’s Day and Term I Blue Day celebrations have already raised significant funds for our cause. Future events such as National Close the Gap Day, Diversity Day (International Studies), NAIDOC Week, and National Literacy and Numeracy Day (Libellum Society) will all contribute to our students’ connection to the School Charity, while also enhancing the magnificent School spirit that we enjoy at Brisbane Girls Grammar through the celebration of our own culture and traditions.
However, we must appreciate what contribution can truly be made through Service beyond the recipient charity. We hope to contribute to the platform of ideas that will enable Indigenous people to facilitate change in their own right. Indigenous people need to be central to the process of change. As reported by Neda Vanovac (2013), ‘Aboriginal organisations are asking to lead the way with respect to funding their own futures’. She has cited Wendy Morton, Executive Director of the NT Council of Social Services who recognises that, ‘We need to invest in building capacity of people, whether that be in schools, health or child protection.’ The principles are about driving long-term change.
Following on from our short-term aspirations of assistance and usefulness, further thought must be given to our long-term goals as we reflect on what we can achieve in the future. Such a challenge has been posed by Brisbane Girls Grammar Thought Leader in Residence Mr Adam Blake through the exploration of the principles of Design Thinking. During his presentation to academic staff at the January Staff Conference Day, he described Design Thinking as a disciplined process that uses stages to force one to think outside the boundaries (Blake, 2014). At its most simple, Design Thinking is about making decisions with empathy, or with the needs of those affected in mind (Devaney, 2014).
Mr Blake challenged staff to list and explain what (and how) Brisbane Girls Grammar has to offer to create positive change for Indigenous Australians and communities, without the contribution of fundraising. The suggested opportunities for engagement were numerous, but participants recognised that we must in turn ask the communities what it is that they need. We would like to develop a two-way relationship through engagement with local elders and Indigenous community groups. We aim to not only educate our students about Indigenous communities but also about the values they will develop including empathy, basic knowledge of our identity and history, and social development.
Mr Blake will return to the School next week to guide us through this sequential process of Design Thinking. To discover, interpret, ideate, experiment and implement with particular reference to a yet-to-be-seen Indigenous awareness service project. We look forward to this task and in the meantime we continue with Design Thinking Step 1: to Discover the challenges we face in this project; our existing empathy, awareness and understanding, the benefits to the recipient of our Service, the benefits to our students, and to the Brisbane Girls Grammar School community.
We recently recognised National Close The Gap Day at the School and acknowledged the gap in Indigenous and non-Indigenous health statistics. Whilst opportunities abound and ideas about how we can contribute to effect change and enable reconciliation are many, it is not difficult to appreciate that this is beyond a one-year project. Anna and Josie and their band of ‘youth crusaders’ are well on the way to effecting change, but just don’t call them this — instead, join them at the Uralla Club.
Blake, A. (2014). Design Thinking. Presented at the Staff Conference Day, Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane, Queensland.
Dedmon, R. M. & Kestler, E. T. (2010). Making a Meaningful Connection: Freshman Transition and Service-Learning. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers. 85(4). 32. Retrieved from MasterFILE Complete. http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/51018083/making-meaningful-connection-freshman-transition-service-learning
Devaney, L. (Ed.). (2014, January 15). ‘Design thinking’ fuels engagement, learning. eSchool News. Retrieved from: http://www.eschoolnews.com/2014/01/15/design-thinking-fuels-625/
McArthur-Dowty, A. (2013, July 26). Raising awareness, promoting understanding, taking action. Perspectives, BGGS News, 31(21). Retrieved from: https://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/2013/07/raising-awareness-promoting-understanding-taking-action/
Tudball, J. (2012). Learning with Purpose. 2012 Annual Review, Brisbane Girls Grammar School, 16, 16-17.
Vanovac, N. (2013, October 31). Aboriginal organisations to lead the way. The Australian: News. Retrieved from: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/aboriginal-organisations-to-lead-the-way/story-fn3dxiwe-1226750634081
Published 20 March 2014