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