Ms Bridget Jenkins from St Virgil’s College speaks to Education Matters about the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan and its outstanding efforts toward creating a dialogue around reconciliation at the school campus and in the wider community. These initiatives saw the college recognised as finalists in the Narragunnawali Awards in 2017, and winners in 2021.
St Virgil’s College is a Catholic school in the Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) tradition, which, at its core, helps students develop the capacity to walk alongside marginalised peoples, according to Ms Bridget Jenkins, Head of Reconciliation Education at St Virgil’s.
“The Edmund Rice spirit and traditions, coupled with our Reconciliation Education Program, work to teach young men to become critical thinkers who act for the greater good and serve to amplify the voice of marginalised peoples and communities,” she says. “Rather than just talking about doing good, our school’s identity and motto, ‘by deeds not words alone’ challenges our students to become good men of action.”
RESPECTING THE PAST, INSPIRING THE PRESENT
The nipaluna (Hobart) boys’ school stands on the lands of the muwinina (mou wee nee nar) who occupied the land for thousands of years, prior to invasion. “The history of the Aboriginal people here is as storied as it is seared by generational trauma,” says Ms Jenkins. “And you don’t have to go very far back to see the effects of that trauma.”
“For the palawa, words and stories continue to carry powerful meaning and connection, and challenge much of the old textbook’s version of Australian and Tasmanian history,” Ms Jenkins explains.
“Sons were reluctant to be forthcoming about their identity, and for many, the word ‘reconciliation’ still carries painful associations with the brutality of colonialism, genocide, and the resulting marginalisation and societal exclusion of their immediate family members.”
From humble beginnings, the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan was born from a desire by many staff, led by the late Mr Mark Waddington, to create a space at the school where boys who identified as Aboriginal could feel culturally safe.
Ms Jenkins explains. “We wanted it to be a meaningful and authentic place of learning and unlearning where the palawa community would be heard and we could begin to understand the truth of this island’s history.”
THE TUNAPRI MAKUMINYA PROJECT
After placing as finalists in the Narragunnawali Awards 2017, the school returned to win the category in 2021, sharing the tunapri makuminya Project with other schools and communities in nipaluna. A biocultural study, the tunapri makuminya Project was created for the school by trawlwoolway and plengarmairenner palawa scientist Mr Jamie Graham-Blair, for identifying plant species on the school’s Senior campus that are of cultural significance to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
“The Narragunnawali Awards, held every two years since 2017, are Australia’s first and only national awards to recognise and celebrate schools and early learning services demonstrating dedication and commitment to implementing reconciliation initiatives.”
The palawa used botanical and astrological markers as guides to understanding the land and the seasons and expressed their culture in continuous relationship with the land. Palawa bush burning practices are an important expression of ancient traditions, facilitating hunting and cooking; communication; burials; and cleansing of the land to encourage new growth. The land is home to a diversity of native and endemic plants, birds, mammals and reptiles, some of which are rare or endangered.
The tuapri makuminya project includes conservation and regeneration proposals, and at its heart, aims to increase palawa community engagement, access to cultural practice and knowledge reclamation for palawa students, and shared opportunities across a healing landscape.
RECONCILIATION THROUGH ART
The first thing visitors to the St Virgil’s College school website see is a striking photograph of several palawa students on the senior campus practising traditional bush burning and healing, along with the Acknowledgement by the College of the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the lands on which St Virgil’s stands.
The words of the Acknowledgement of Country were co-written by the RAP Working Group and the artwork on the website was created from designs by palawa students in response to the special environments surrounding the school.
“Creative and artistic expression was an important part of the boys’ and our College’s reconciliation journey,” says Ms Jenkins.
“Throughout these years, I’ve learned the importance of documenting our progress through both expressive and administrative means and I think that’s well represented in the artwork, photos, stories, and events we have experienced through engaging with our diverse College community.”
“Winning the award has given us so much affirmation in the work that we have done, and it has been an inspiration for us to keep going, but we also feel a great responsibility to keep being real, open and optimistic about what we’re trying to do,” she concludes.
ABOUT NARRAGUNNAWALI: RECONCILIATION IN EDUCATION
Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education is a program of Reconciliation Australia, which supports schools and early learning services in Australia to develop environments that actively engage the hearts and minds of future generations to contribute to the reconciliation process.
Narragunnawali (pronounced narra-gunna-wally) is a word from the language of the Ngunnawal people, Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and waterways of the area on which Reconciliation Australia’s Canberra office is located.
ABOUT THE NARRAGUNNAWALI AWARDS
Reconciliation Australia, in partnership with the BHP Foundation, holds the Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education Awards every two years to identify, celebrate and promote outstanding commitment to reconciliation in education environments and to share these inspirational stories across the country.
- Outstanding reconciliation initiatives at Mosman Park Primary School
- Paving the way for educational justice through reconciliation
- Recognising outstanding reconciliation initiatives in education
- The Indigenous Literacy Foundation launches Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan
- Finding a First Nations voice in education