From Melbourne to Bunuba Country
Wesley College Chaplain Bradon French reflects on a trip for students to Yiramalay Studio School
July 19, 2023
By Bradon French, Chaplain for Wesley College at Glen Waverley Campus
The students from Wesley College, Glen Waverley campus, recently went to visit Yiramalay Studio School. They have built a unique partnership between themselves and the Bunuba people. Bradon French, Chaplain at Wesley College for over 2 years, returned in June from their annual trip. He shares a report from the trip below, originally published in the Port Phillip East Presbytery Newsbeat.
“...concepts of reconciliation were made real over shared meals, story-telling and long drives in the troupie."
Bunuba Country is about 400km inland from Broome, marked by boab trees, red dust, natural springs, and cattle stations. Nestled in this paradise, an hour north of Fitzroy Crossing, is Yiramalay Studio School. Recently, I had the privilege of spending a few weeks up there with students from Wesley College.
I remember Rev Graham Bartley, my predecessor as Chaplain at Wesley College Glen Waverley, speaking highly of his visits to Yiramalay, during my time working for the Vic/Tas Synod. With COVID-19 border closures in the rear-view mirror, I had the opportunity to experience it first-hand.
Yiramalay is a school grounded in principles of mutual exchange, community connections and skills pathways. Each year students from Melbourne visit for a 3-week induction, followed, in earlier years, by students from Yiramalay continuing their senior education in Melbourne.
Recently, Yiramalay was handed over to Studio Schools Australia, and is seen as a model for learning on country – a possible solution to tackle failing indigenous education rates. Inductions still occur (hence my opportunity), however local Indigenous students who hope to attend Yiramalay also join these unique visits.
Inductions are both intense and fragile for all involved. For the Yiramalay students, a new ‘Melbourne mob’ brings new dynamics and pressures. For the Melbourne students, most have never experienced a context like Yiramalay. For the staff, it’s a balancing act between supporting and challenging students to immerse themselves. It’s a 24-hour a day melting pot for the three weeks of a typical induction.
The induction experience includes learning about Bunuba culture and history from traditional owners Marilyn and Uncle Ralph, in classrooms and on country. Curriculum includes kinship structures, dreaming stories, botany lessons and learning about the famous Bunuba freedom fighter, Jandamarra. We were fortunate to be on country for Reconciliation Week so that concepts of reconciliation were made real over shared meals, story-telling and long drives in the troupie.
Each day typically culminated with a swim or some fishing at majestic freshwater springs or along the Fitzroy River. Nights were filled with footy, discos, karaoke, and cups of tea.
Returning to Melbourne, I found myself reflecting on the strengths and limitations of immersion experiences like the one I’ve attempted to describe above.
For many Melbourne students, the induction provided their first experience ‘on country,’ and for some, even their first meaningful conversation with First Nations friends. These are formative moments, and it’s a privilege to walk alongside young people at times like that. Returning students can engage with reconciliation actions across College life to further develop their learning.
And yet, FIFO visits still risk reinforcing colonial and tourist mentalities – exploiting the scenario for selfies and stories to tell upon return.
If reconciliation requires walking together as First and Second Peoples, surely a three-week wander doesn’t suffice. It can only be the beginning.
In a year of referendum, Yiramalay inductions feel small. And perhaps that’s appropriate. Bigger opportunities await each of us.
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From Melbourne to Bunuba Country
From Melbourne to Bunuba CountryWesley College Chaplain Bradon French reflects on a trip for students to Yiramalay Studio SchoolBy Bradon French, Chaplain for Wesley College at Glen Waverley CampusThe students from Wesley College, Glen Waverley campus, recently went to visit Yiramalay Studio School. They have built a unique partnership between themselves and the Bunuba people.…