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The nation will celebrate NAIDOC week from 7 to 14 July while Queensland students enjoy school holidays, and for the significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at St Brendan’s College it is a welcome time to travel home to spend time with family – from Woorabinda in Central Queensland to Lockhart River, Aurukun or Kowanyama at the northern tip of Queensland or Thursday, Badu or Saibai Islands in the Torres Strait.
NAIDOC Week is well recognised for celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and giving all Australians the opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and in 2019 its theme is Voice, Treaty, Truth.
At St Brendan’s College, the Indigenous Program has been established for many years, offering students the opportunity to reach their potential, while celebrating and building upon their cultural awareness and understanding; and through this program offering non-indigenous students the opportunity for greater understanding and relationships with those beside them in the classroom, or in the boarding dorms.
While many of the students may celebrate NAIDOC week at home, the College will mark the occasion with the annual NAIDOC Mass at the Rockhampton Cathedral on Tuesday 16 July at 11.00am, when the students return to school for Term 3.
In addition to a team of Indigenous support staff led by Director of Indigenous Education, Mr Peter Bartlett, to support the students personally, academically and culturally, Indigenous students are encouraged to be involved with the various Indigenous Dance Troupes at the College to continue to celebrate their culture while at SBC and to build understanding and appreciation of their stories and dance within the Central Queensland community.
For Year 8 student, Petheru Toby from Badu Island in the Torres Strait, he enjoys his time at SBC, participating in the Torres Strait Dance Troupe, hanging out in boarding, playing rugby league for St Brendan’s College and local club Capricorn Coast Brothers, and undertaking his two favourite subjects, metal work and art at school.
Sent to St Brendan’s ‘to get a good education’ by his parents, he is fortunate to board at the College with his brother Maugu, cousin Anasta and many friends from home.
But he was particularly excited to be travelling home for the June-July holidays to enjoy time out on the crystal-clear waters of the Torres Strait every day; turtle and dugong hunting and crayfish and sting ray hunting with family and friends.
Asked what he misses most when boarding at SBC, family and the ‘nice, clear waters of home’ were the two key things.
One would think that SBC’s new boarding recreation program, which includes regular Causeway Lake fishing excursions, would be a welcome activity from home, but according to Petheru the fishing in Central Queensland just can’t match that of the Torres Strait.
“It takes too long for the fish to bite; it probably takes about one minute for the fish to bite at home!” he said.
Underpinned by the mission of Edmund Rice education, Mr Bartlett said the staff work together to support Indigenous and Torres Strait Island students to find a home away from home in an environment of inclusivity, mutual respect and high expectation.
“It is not easy for many of these students to be so far away from home each term, but we work hard to support them to give them every opportunity to learn, grow and challenge themselves,” Mr Bartlett said.
“Over the years we have had many students who have gone onto university, trades and jobs throughout Australia, and also those who have returned home to be valuable members of their communities,” he said.
“Whatever their journey may be, we work hard to uphold the dignity of each and every individual and enable them to navigate their own path to success at the College and beyond.”
“And for our Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, we work to ensure they leave our College being active participants of reconciliation in our community; having lived and studied side by side with mutual respect.”
For Petheru, he enjoys his time in class, in the dorm and on the footy field and sees his relationships quite simply with his Indigenous and non-Indigenous classmates.
“When you come here you have got lots of people to hang around with, everyone gets on and everyone is good,” he said.