River of Learning – A successful cultural immersion program

Facta Non Verba: Deeds not Words, our school motto, inspires Maclean High’s River of Learning program.

To both celebrate the values and aspirations underpinning Reconciliation Week, and illuminate our own core school values of respect, effort and safety, the River of Learning program, through active engagement with the local Yaegl community, represents successful inclusivity in action. As Yaegl Elders in the Yaegl landscape teach our students and staff about Yaegl traditions and beliefs, positive partnerships are strengthened within and between our local, school and Indigenous communities, and with the participating tertiary institution, Macquarie University.

Most importantly, the program embeds Yaegl culture into the school community and syllabus, thus resonating into the community as shared local knowledge and understanding. The River of Learning program is innovative and perpetual, taking students from the confines of the classroom into the Yaegl landscape. Together, teachers, students and Elders explore the stories and histories of the Yaegl community, visiting culturally and spiritually significant Indigenous sites, such as the Brooms Head Fish Traps and the Axe Factory, where they meet, engage with and learn from Yaegl Elders in an open atmosphere of mutual respect and shared commitment.

Together, we learn the legends of our local landscape, the food that sustained our Elders’ forebears, the bush and beach technologies used to reap nature’s rewards and the stories of trade, marriage, gender responsibilities and later adaptations and responses to colonial life. We compare past lifestyles with present lifestyles, present cultural differences with future cultural possibilities. Together, as locals inhabiting our shared, historically rich and culturally diverse Yaegl Country, we learn to value our entire community for its differences, rather than in spite of them.

Begun in 2009 in collaboration between local elders, Maclean High School Science students and Macquarie University, the River of Learning has developed into a whole-school program, in which all Year 7 students and all teachers participate. By 2015, every student and teacher at Maclean High School has enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the cultural tour — now an essential part of Maclean High School’s community education effort. It is an invaluable practice through which our school maintains its commitment to respect and understand the Yaegl culture in all students and staff.

Story contributed by Liza Hamilton from Maclean High School. Published in 2019.