River of Learning 2021

Reconciliation Week was held from 26 May – 2 June. This year’s theme – ‘More than a word, Reconciliation takes action’ – asked us all to reflect on how reconciliation can be further implemented in our everyday practice.

The Celebration Day was held at Maclean High School on Wednesday 2 June. The school was fortunate that the easing of Covid restrictions allowed us to have an Elders and Community morning tea in the library before a whole-school smoking ceremony in the quadrangle. This was presided over by the Elders and Sam Kapeen. Uncle Sam explained the significance of the smoking ceremony to the school and why it is an important way to commemorate special occasions. The school was then treated to three dances performed by our Aboriginal boys’ group, the largest Maclean High School dancers ever assembled. The boys were accompanied by Dean Loadsman with the didgeridoo.

From the quadrangle, the celebration day moved to the gymnasium where Year 7 students were assembled. The PDHPE faculty organized Aboriginal games on the basketball courts, where 7 classes could participate each year. Parents and community members were then invited inside the gymnasium to look at the student work completed in Term 1, sample bush tucker, and look at some Aboriginal artefacts. The official part of the celebration day comprised a welcome speech by Greg Court, principal of Maclean High School and Sam Kapeen, Aboriginal Education Officer. Sam then called upon the members of the Randall family to give a special address on behalf of Elders who had passed away and who had been such an invaluable asset and unwavering in their support of reconciliation at Maclean High School. Awards and recognition were given to students in Year 7 who were nominated for exhibiting key characteristics of reconciliation and the school ethos of FRESH. Following the special presentation to our Elders Uncle Ron and Aunty Glenda, who ran the Cultural Tours for Year 7 students in Term 1, awards were given to the winners of the River of Learning Art Exhibition held at the Storyhouse museum in Yamba. This year’s theme of Connecting with Country, asked the students to draw, paint or sketch what connects them with Country. The River of Learning Art Show invites Maclean High School students and Year 6 primary school students to promote the River of Learning Celebration day to all schools within Yaegl Country.

For the first time, the River of Learning Celebration Day program this year included a performance from the Maclean High School Choral group who performed ‘Coz I’m Free’ and ‘Bird Set Free’. The group did exceptionally well, and the audience appreciated their performance.

As part of the celebration day, the school invites a guest speaker to address the crowd. This year, a Maclean High School alumna came to the school to speak about her experience growing up on Yaegl land and attending Maclean High School. Raquel Mercy, nee Binge, is a proud Kamilaroi woman who spent her high school years in Maclean and went to Maclean High School. She graduated in 2004. Raquel has studied education and is currently teaching English and Aboriginal Studies at Casino High School. Raquel spoke of the importance of connecting with your family, particularly grandparents, and heeding the knowledge that comes from sitting down with Elders and other important people in your life, talking with them, and passing on their stories.

The River of Learning Celebration Day is its 12th year, and it is a fundamental way of highlighting the integration and appreciation of the Yaegl perspective and culture in our school. It is an enormous undertaking each year that could not occur if it did not have the commitment and energy of our staff and Elders. Special acknowledgment and thanks must go to our Elders Uncle Ron Heron and Aunty Glenda McPhail. Also, thank you to Aunty Beris Duroux and Aunty Pandy Laurie for their ongoing support and advice. Lastly, to our Aboriginal Education staff Deborah Breckenridge, Krystal Randall, Anjanette Warburton, and Sam Kapeen. Without their knowledge, organisation and passion for Aboriginal education and the sharing of culture, such an event could never occur. See you all again in 2022.

Story contributed by Liza Hamilton from Maclean High School. Published in 2021