The School without fences

Today, EGS Trust directors Michael, Stuart, Sean and myself along with our new NDESC committee members Steve Payne, Kevin Bird, Tony Agnew and Angela Young (Associate Member EGST) – apologies from Linda Tucker, met with the Narooma High School (NHS) Executive Principal Fiona Jackson, Joseph Harper (Deputy Principal), Karen Ella-Bird (Snr Leader Indigenous Community Engagement), Shirlee-Maree Rowland (Head of Languages & Wellness and responsible person for the Breakfast Club), and other Indigenous staff members, Carl Taylor (Leader Student Support), Reece Ladmore (Student Support), and Daniel Mason Community Worker Red Cross).

This was a valuable and worthwhile meeting for everyone and we came away deeply impressed by the structures now in place at NHS that are based upon deep respect and caring for the students attending the school. It was so good to hear from Fiona and her committed team of staff members as they outlined how the school functions and their relationship with students who feel a close ownership of their school.

We heard how Fiona and other staff members meet the school buses each morning to welcome the students and how direction and decisions form, from the ground level upwards, with students having valuable input in decisions. I could see how the pride that these young Indigenous people have found in their school and education is now being transferred on to their family members and elders enabling healing and new understanding. This is bringing leadership out from within these students that is healing past attitudes and is enabling such potential and hope in going forward.

We all recognised how differently this school is approaching education to when we attended school. It affirmed for us the value and immense possibilities that our support for the planned mentoring program and the Breakfast Club will assist to enable even greater outcomes. Carl, who originates from the Northern Territory, spoke of how these boys of this age culturally, would be seen as young men. By respecting this aspect, it has evidentially shown that they react from a point of maturity.  They step up to this higher role and this has brought forth greater cultural pride and respect in their culture.

We felt such a warm connection and inclusion in the hope that was very evident in our discussions today and we were welcomed warmly by the staff.

After our meeting we enjoyed a tour lead by Kevin, Carl, Daniel and Reece. Beginning with the outdoor Gardening/Nursery program that EGS Trust assisted with seed funding for this project. This is now about to be expanded to include traditional Indigenous plants that will enable traditional bush medicines to be produced. The girls have shown interest to pursue this under the direction and instruction of Elders.

I have asked for an update on this project and their planned future development as I feel that there will be ongoing interest and support for this from those people who previously lent their support to this project.

We heard about the Canoe Building project that is now available for the Indigenous boys. This is reviving and building close connection to culture enabled in the time spent in learning and in the sharing of life stories as they work. Carl spoke of how important this is for the boys to feel able to open up within a safe group and to discuss their inner emotions and feelings. Both the girl’s bush medicine and the boy’s canoe building programs are open to those non-indigenous students who wish to participate and this interest has grown. The emphasis is upon inclusiveness within the school.

Our tour took us on a walk to the boy’s (men’s) dancing circle set within the tall trees and the native plants which are abundant at the school. We saw the girl’s (women’s) yarning circle, learned of the higher ground placement of the boy’s yarning circle and the site of a combined circle between the two sites where they all can come together. These sites were created by the students under direction from contractors and teaching staff.

We learned that the school is sited on a Song Line and we felt the honour and respect that is given to this area. Narooma High School is one of the very rare schools today that does not have a high fence surrounding it. The freedom symbolised by this ‘unconfined’ school, which is situated within the natural environment, expresses hope so strongly. Today, we all witnessed the openness and enlightened approach that is alive and well at Narooma High School.

I am sure that we all felt very encouraged that our involvement with our Narooma and District Education Support Committee, in partnership with the committed staff at Narooma High School, will auger well for current and future students of the school.

Laurel Lloyd-Jones

25th March 2024

Was the Uluru Statement of the Heart a prophetic vision for Australia?

‘Prophets nurture and evoke a new way of thinking. They give us images and words which subvert our system and tell us that we haven’t seen the whole picture yet. Prophets are not just concerned about social change for the sake of social change. They are concerned above all with transformation and freedom of the heart, and then out of that free heart, the prophet says, “Listen.” The prophet creates a new, freeing consciousness which allows us to hear the divine word and in the midst of that freedom, the prophets plant a promise, an alternative and new vision.’

These words, by Franciscan Richard Rohr, seem to be calling us to a prophetic vison for our country, however, sadly this opportunity might not be realised.

This article was also published on Pearls and Irritations

Pain and deeply renewed trauma, due to unabated bigotry, racism and prejudice in our contemporary society, has been occurring since the announcement of the referendum to give our First Nation Peoples a Voice to Parliament. Opposition leader Peter Dutton and his obsequious right-wing admirers have pressed firmly on the fear buttons to engage all who have swallowed the dis-information that alleges that their privileged lifestyles could be threatened. Our mining magnates, out of self-interest lead the brigade of fear.

I would like to bring this disturbing and unbridled result of such untruths, broadcast so widely, right back down to what is happening in our local communities here on the far-south coast of New South Wales.

In my work over the past forty years as a social worker, I have worked closely with the Indigenous community in both the Snowy Mountains area and now here on the coastal area near Narooma, I am confronted with the vastly increased trauma being expressed by our local Aboriginal community as a result of the blatant and overt racism of some non-indigenous members of our society.

A good friend of mine Sally, contacted me in considerable distress at having first-hand witnessed the pain being experienced by our Aboriginal community at this time as we head to the referendum next Saturday. Sally has been working tirelessly with other inspiring members of our local community to provide better understanding of what the Voice Referendum is seeking to offer us all as Australians.

These intelligent and compassionate people have come to have a close and deep relationship with the local Aboriginal people in this area and something has become exceedingly apparent. It seems that permission has been given for non-factual statements and uncontrolled hatred and racism to be spread widely. We see how quickly such abusive and overt racism has drained our non-indigenous people’s pride in our country. This has only been a brief moment in time for us non-indigenous folk so let us consider what living with this type of hatred and racism from your birth does to your spirit, hopes, desires and dreams.

Sally spoke of a much respected Aboriginal elder in our community, whose name I won’t share here, – I will call him Tom, who came into the local markets over the weekend.

“He seemed to be trembling and was really upset and concerned for his community and his own family members. Tom spoke of seeing people turn away from him when he approached. These are people that Tom thought were his friends. His fears at this extreme racist abuse that has caused him to consider investigating security measures for his family. Tom spoke of the abusive comments that have appeared on his social media page which has caused him to block these people whom he had regarded as friends.”

Another Aboriginal woman told Sally that she had been spat upon by someone in the street.

When I was assisting at our local pre-poll voting centre the other day one inauspicious character drew his vehicle almost to a stop to shout out, “keep Australia white – vote NO”.

One does wonder where this man has been hiding out that his education and life experience had not enabled him a better understanding of our country’s history or an appreciation of our multi-cultural society today. Our diverse and rich culture, which today is celebrated by those who can understand the rich gifts that diversity brings, offers us so much as a nation.

There are many caring and compassionate Australians out there who are about to place their vote for the Referendum. These people aren’t the ones who are spreading this pain for our Indigenous friends and community members. They aren’t loud and abusive. It is this aspect of our culture that holds me in hope that, even though this referendum could fail, that a much stronger bridge has now been crossed in our relationships with our First Nation community.

People now feel greater pride for the endurance of our land’s first custodians who have shown their enduring resilience, their innate compassion and generosity.

We have now heard their stories that have been hidden, very likely to cover up our shame at our past history, and these stories will continue to be told. It is in listening that we learn and find our hearts and our voices to stand against hatred and racism.

Such a prophetic and gracious invitation was extended to us all in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. I hope and pray that our nation’s better angels can lead us to higher values and deeper compassion.

About the writer:

Laurel Lloyd-Jones (LFSF) is:

  • a published author
  • Social Worker
  • Executive Director of Elm Grove Sanctuary Trust – a charity that has worked extensively with Aboriginal people over the past 40 years.

My Reflections on the Power of Love

In reflecting recently on the gifts that have been provided to me on having reached older age, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to be able to appreciate our wonderful natural world, so many valued good friends, and the joy of seeing our children and their children achieve satisfying lives as caring, loving people. Sadly, many people leave this earth far too early in their lives as a result of illness, neglect, misadventure, greed and tragically due to war.

At this present time there seems to be so much disillusionment with the critical concerns facing us all. Climate change, and the extreme situations that it has brought, is seriously impacting all life on our planet right now. Pandemics and illnesses that are leaving suffering people struggling to re-gain their lives. Political corruption and abuse of power appears to be increasing. We see escalating wars fuelled by greed and hatred that cause suffering on an immense scale. Everywhere these tragic situations are calling out to us to seek a better way to live together.  If life on this beautiful planet is to continue on into the future then we must address these things.

Presently our Australian nation is seeing the deep divide that has occurred since the announcement of the referendum to give Indigenous people a voice to address the inequality that has beset them since colonisation. Based upon widely promoted biased, non-factual and fear-based information we are experiencing just how destructive and divisive this has been.

We have heard negative remarks juxtaposed against the tragic lives of some Aboriginal people. These are all too frequently reported in the media, and sit against what is being sought through a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum. The failure within the conservative media to find intelligent, thoughtful information that enables respect and compassion has created a huge chasm. It fails to understand what comes from inter-generational trauma, deprivation, racism and inequality. Fear has been caste abroad from a political and biased  perspective and it has spread like an epidemic.

Love is the direct opposite to fear. The Uluru ‘Statement from the Heart’ was born of generosity, respect, hope and love. It is a powerful statement that seeks to be a way-shower. It embraces the deep spirituality of this land’s First People as they extend this generous invitation for us to walk with them into a united future.

Today there is disillusionment and disappointment with organised religion. People have seen the hypocrisy displayed all too often within the rules and structures that have been formed. We have heard the pain of those who suffered as victims. As a result, many people fail to have any faith in a higher power to sustain them, or to offer hope for their future lives.

Yet we also see that there is a growing awareness within our society of our need to care for each other. In this caring for the greater good of others, perhaps we are seeing a new expression of that eternal deep spiritual core that has been over-looked and ignored for too long. It likely was known by another name and was one that divided us and caused dissension. Perhaps the way forward might be to not give this a name at all. To see it purely as Love and a yearning for the Common Good.

In reflecting on the huge power that results when fear is broadcast perhaps our attention could now be to reflect upon the immense power that love can bring to change situations. Love that travels from heart to heart because first and foremost we care for others and seek to create ways to change destructive situations. These heart-felt yearnings change situations. They become sounding forks that hold the love and intention of our hearts enabling them to continue to vibrate and resonate within others. Some people still name these energies prayer – a term used within many faith expressions.

I have been imagining the powerhouse of energy that focused and committed love towards a YES vote for the referendum can bring forth. Love, used as a positive sounding fork each time we think of this referendum during our daily activities and when we speak with other people. In our quiet reflective times these positive thoughts can re-energise our heart’s desire so that we can go forward trusting that our nation’s soul will choose Hope.

Please remember that the opposite to love is fear. If we are seeking the common good for others and ourselves, then surely we are treading the right pathway.


Encouragement Grant awarded for 2022

Our Encouragement Grant for 2022 has been awarded to Alison Walker. Alison is a proud Djiringanj woman of the Yuin nation who shares her pride and commitment to her cultural history. This love is well expressed in her colourful artwork.

My name is Alison Walker and my home is Wallaga Lake – a small coastal Aboriginal community on the far south coast of New South Wales. My totem is Umbarra – the Black duck of the Djiringanj Tribe.

 I take strength from my culture, which has been passed down to me through my Elders over many generations.  This has instilled within me a deep love and respect for my culture.  My artistic practise always seeks to offer the viewer a story that expresses the importance and cultural significance of the land, the sea, the mountains, our animals and our story lines.   All relate to the Dreaming and the stories passed down to us through our Elders.

 I walk proudly down that Dreaming track and I am thankful for the gifts that have flowed to me and the opportunity to share these with others.  I love to paint – it is my life.  I hope that the passion and happiness that painting gives to me is reflected through my art as memories flow out from within me.  They bring me great joy and I hope that the pride I have in my heritage is shared with the observer.