10th River of Learning Celebration Day

Celebrating 10 years of learning and inclusivity at Maclean High School.

The 10th River of Learning Celebration Day was held at Maclean High School on Wednesday 29 May. The event was officially opened on Tuesday night at the Yamba Museum, featuring the River to the Sea art exhibition where students from Maclean High school and local primary schools contributed their artwork. Other schools along the Clarence River, such as Baryulgil Primary School and, for the first time, Casino High school, have also joined the exhibition. Yaegl Elder Aunty Elizabeth Smith and Principal Greg Court opened the exhibition. There are over 100 pieces of art that will be on display at the museum until 16 June.

The Celebration Day on Wednesday started with an Elders’ morning tea in the library. The school was then treated to a special smoking ceremony by Uncle Ron and Sam Kapeen which was presided over by fifteen Yaegl Elders. It was a very special moment for everyone to watch, as our Aboriginal dancers performed a cleansing dance. This was especially poignant as the Celebration Day is always scheduled during Reconciliation Week. From there, the celebrations commenced in the gym, with Year 7 students participating in Aboriginal games on the basketball courts organised by the PDHPE faculty for parents and community members to watch. Parents could then go into the gym to see all the projects developed by the faculties that teach Year 7 that contained the Yaegl perspective, in subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Geography, History Tas, Special Education and the Creative and Performing Arts. Parents and community members were able to see their work.

The official part of Celebration Day was centred on the speeches and acknowledgement of the last ten years. The addresses were given by Uncle Ron, Greg Court, Rhonda Pitson, Kahlua Charlton and Joanne Jamie from Macquarie University. All speakers gave their perspective on the River of Learning program and how far we had all come in a decade. Uncle Ron’s call for greater funding from the Federal Government to allow schools the opportunity to grow and learn reconciliation resonated heavily with everyone in the gym. There was a collective theme expressed by all speakers: something really special has come from a partnership between the Elders, the community, Macquarie University and the school over the last ten years.

The highlight of the program was the performances by our students, with Year 7 students Ryan Anderson and Millie Speirs reading their accounts of the Cultural Tours. The musical and dance items were outstanding throughout the ceremony. To the delight of the audience, the music group sang the chorus line to ‘I am Australian’ in Yaygirr language which was particularly breathtaking. The finale was the song ‘Solid Rock’ performed by the Maclean High School musicians and accompanied by the Aboriginal dance group. Students were then treated to a sausage sizzle. Elders and invited guests enjoyed a luncheon catered by Year 11 Hospitality students.

Such an event would not be possible without the hard work of many people over several weeks to get things running smoothly. Firstly, a thank you to Elders Uncle Ron, Aunty Glenda, Aunty Rosie and Aunty Beris who accompanied the students on the Cultural Tours in Term 1, which was very much part of the students’ work on display in the gym. The ongoing success of the Cultural Tours is due to the Elders giving the school their time and knowledge of Country which is very special for every student.

The school would like to thank Dee-Anne Kapeen and Dean Loadsmen for working with the students, Dee-Anne in helping prepare the lunch, and Dean for the time given to rehearsals in getting all the dances right for the smoking ceremony and the ceremony in the gym. Thank you to the Maclean High staff for their ongoing effort in constructing the displays, cooking the sausages, teaching the thematic lessons and the music. Thank you to the Yamba Historical Society for setting up the exhibition and collating all the artwork. Their support is very much appreciated by the school.

Special thanks to Rhonda Pitson, Deputy Principal at MHS 2009—2016 for her inspirational idea that has become the River of Learning Celebration Day, along with her passion and commitment towards this program and Aboriginal Education over the last decade at MHS.

Lastly, such an event would not have been possible without the enormous effort, drive and commitment shown by our Aboriginal Education Workers, who led and coordinated all the projects on the day, such as dance, music, language, art, consultancy and logistics. They have also encouraged and inspired our students to ‘get out there and celebrate their culture’. A big thank you to Sam Kapeen, Anjanette Warburton, Krystal Randall and Deborah Breckenridge. They are such tremendous role models for all our students.

We look forward to another ten years of the River of Learning.

Liza Hamilton
DP IL Aboriginal Students.

Contributed by Liza Hamilton from Maclean High School. Published in 2019.