Jonny Samengo, Executive Officer of Indigenous Education at The Scots College, Sydney, writes about a learning experience like no other.
The evening sky is immense, streaked with pink and purple. It meets the water with a dash of orange and cobalt blue. The hot, immense sun sinks slowly into the horizon. It feels like the water will sizzle and boil when the sun touches it. For some reason, the sun seems bigger, hotter and more powerful than we have ever seen before. Six teenage boys line the shore, looking in all directions and taking in the sheer scale of everything around them. Bigger, bolder, stronger, hotter. The silence is broken by the words ‘Hey boys, no backs to the water!’ The boys suddenly remember their lesson from earlier on in the day and spring round to face the ocean and sunset.
The lesson wasn’t about how to observe the onset of dusk, or how to take a good snap of a sunset, it was about a snap of another kind. Crocodiles. Never, ever, turn your back on the water, as you never know when one of those prehistoric, supersized creatures will get you. As they say, it’s not the crocs you can see that you should worry about, it’s the ones you can’t see.
Now, you don’t get to learn that in a Sydney classroom.
However, in many ways, this is a class room, just a very interactive, large one. These boys soaked up everything about Aboriginal culture; the moiety system, songlines, language, dance and history. In true Aboriginal style, these are not learned in separate classes, but all bound up together in a cultural unison that is simply breathtaking in being so holistic, delicate, intelligent and spiritual.
Where is this and how do I get there, I hear you ask. Well, it is in North East Arnhem Land and Culture College can take you there, accommodate you, teach you and even feed you too. All you need to be is a school age student with a willing school and thoughtful parents.
I run Indigenous Education at The Scots College in Sydney and we have 20 Indigenous boys on scholarship. Around half of these boys are from the Northern Territory. These brave, charming, energetic young men have captivated the attention of fellow Scots students and parents alike and have created a great demand to visit up North and find out more about these boys, their families, land and culture.
Culture College arranged the whole trip. Based out of Nhulunbuy, the College has taken over one of the old mine accommodation blocks in town and from there, we joined up with other local Tour operators, who scooped us all up in a 4×4 bus and took us, amongst other places to Nyinyikay, a very remote homeland of the Yolngu people. There we had a blissful four days and three nights of making spears, fishing, weaving, exploring and learning so many facets of Yolngu culture. Culture College have set up seasonal tents that house 4 students per tent in proper beds and standing room. Hot showers and flushing toilets are a short walk away (being careful to dodge the scurrying hermit crabs) and food is on constant supply, provided by the tour group. Cereal, toast and pancakes for breakfast, wraps for lunch and chicken and rice for dinner and variations on that theme.
If your school doesn’t do trips like this, tell them about Culture College. Maybe you will be lucky enough to join them on the trip as well. I’m sure you never thought you would end up back in a classroom, but you will be glad for this outdoor version. All who go will come back with great experiences, stories and learnings. Above all you will come back with a great respect for the Yolngu people and a renewed appreciation of what it means to share this great country with the oldest civilization on earth. Lucky us. We can all learn from that.
Culture College is an Arnhem Land-based Indigenous cultural and outdoor education immersion program tailored for secondary school students and designed to simultaneously educate and inspire our ‘leaders of tomorrow’ and to invigorate the local homeland economies in the Northern Territory.