Inner West Independent

Art for reconciliation

An exhibition on Kegworth Public School's fence showcasing student works. Photo: Supplied/ Reconciliation NSW


A new program for schools in Sydney’s CBD and Inner West is helping connect students with local Indigenous culture and identity.

The new “Pathways to Reconciliation” program was developed by Reconciliation NSW and funded by the City of Sydney’s cultural and creative grants and sponsorship program. Fort Street, Bourke Street and Newtown Public Schools benefited from the program in Sydney’s city. 

In the Inner West, the program was sponsored by the council’s Community Wellbeing grants program and delivered at Kegworth Public School in Leichhardt and Tempe Public School.

Reconciliation NSW says the aim of the program is to support schools and communities to “foster a higher level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions”.

The students spent time learning from Uncle Jimmy Smith, a Wiradjuri Elder from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Lands Council, and Aboriginal dance and culture educators Kerry and Maci Johnson. 

Reconciliation NSW told City Hub that Pathways to Reconciliation is different from similar programs because it is delivered over a series of three workshops, rather than one “FIFO” session.

“These help keep the kids connected to the knowledge and creates relationships and understanding,” Reconciliation NSW said.

The workshops introduced students to “Caring for Country” concepts in their local areas and students took part in yarning circles where they explored identity, reconciliation, hopes and dreams. 

After the workshops, the students created artworks and writing based on what they had learned. Freya, a year five student at Newtown Public School said the Pathways to Reconciliation program has been “a great opportunity to connect with and appreciate the land we stand on.” 

“Creating an artwork was a fun way to show our understanding of Country and reconciliation and not just talk about it,” she said.

Always was, always will be

As part of NAIDOC week, the students’ artworks will be part of a series of public exhibitions.

The artworks can be viewed by the local community along the schools’ fences on Unwins Bridge Road in Tempe and Tebbutt Street in Leichhardt. In the city, more Pathways to Reconciliation artworks will be displayed on Bourke Street in Surry Hills, Norfolk Street in Newtown and Wattle Street in Ultimo from November 9th. 

The theme of NAIDOC week for 2020 is “Always Was, Always Will Be” in recognition of the First Nations peoples’ occupation and custodianship of the continent for over 65,000 years. For students in Sydney’s city and Inner West, the Pathways to Reconciliation program is a chance to, not only engage with Indigenous stories, but also pass them on to others within the community.

“We’ve used the knowledge from Uncle Jimmy and Kerry to pass on to other people so they can share it and then those people can share it. So the knowledge goes on and on forever,” said Freya.

Five students who participated in the Pathways program have gone on to be finalists in Reconciliation NSW’s “Caring for Country – Schools Reconciliation Challenge” with their art and poetry selected from among over 600 entries across the state. 

Woromi poet, Nicole Smede, who is one of the judges for the event said she was impressed with the quality of the students’ work.

“Reading these deeply thoughtful and powerful messages, I am hopeful for the future,” she said.

Work from all the Caring for Country – Schools Reconciliation Challenge finalists will be on digital display at Powerhouse Museum throughout NAIDOC week.

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