Achieving through education
“A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education he may steal the whole railroad.”
Those are the words of Theodore Roosevelt, former president of the United States of America. He spoke on the subject of education, and the benefits of a strong schooling. At school you will learn many things you will know for the rest of your life, like how to make up good excuses for not handing in your homework, the best way to out-run an angry teacher when you hit a cricket ball through a window, and how to change the subject when the teacher launches into a long drone on irrational numbers. But seriously school, in general consensus is an effective way of ensuring a successful future for children. Luckily in our country all children have access to a quality education system but unfortunately Aboriginal children are not achieving as they ought.
Aboriginal people were only counted as citizens since 1967, a scarily recent date. It may seem a long time ago, but to think that we had the technology to get to the moon around the same time, it is only then that you realise the length of time that our people have been accepted. Even 20 years down the track, they were still often not fully accepted, being called names and made to feel embarrassed about their culture. But when we finally reach today, it is only now, that reconciliation is finally gaining support. Fortunately now efforts are being made to enhance Aboriginal education and children are experiencing the rewards after a long and troubled history.
My name is Jackson Gray, I’m a Wiradjuri man, my people coming from the Peak Hill area. I attended Thirlmere Primary school, and am now in Year 7 at Picton High school. I am 13 years old, and live on the land of the Tharawal people. My dad is a proud aboriginal man, but it wasn’t always so. During his schooling, he was not expected to do well by his teachers and his peers. He is much darker than I am, which may be the reason for the prejudice and bullying he received. He didn’t aspire to do big things, as he was “Aboriginal” and “Aboriginal” people were not expected to do “well” at school. My dad did not intend to go all the way through high school. But a dedicated teacher actually visited his home at the end of year 10, knocked on the door, and strongly recommended to his parents that he finish High school. That’s all it took to turn his life around. Dad joined the public service where he was encouraged to do courses to improve himself. He studied for a law degree in his spare time and became a chamber magistrate and is now Registrar of the Court, a big difference to being a labourer for the Department of Main Roads, which is what he would have been if it wasn’t for that one teacher that cared about children. Education at my home is valued highly. My mum is a teacher and my dad still is attempting to learn the language of our Aboriginal ancestors.
I am quite lucky, attending a school where racism is simply not a factor. I was well supported at my early school life, seeing Aboriginal teachers as the norm, receiving Vibe magazines and being encouraged to extend my talents in competitions and being involved in a variety programmes along with my peers. I’ve attended many Aboriginal activities, where things were done to honour the Aboriginal people. For example, in my final year at primary school, my school created a “Bush Tucker garden” consisting of many foods and plants that local aborigines would have used in their daily lives. Behind this was a mural, consisting of a large Aboriginal flag and the totem of the local Aboriginal people, with all the Kooris in the school able to put their hand print over the flag. It’s these projects that make Aboriginal children feel more supported. They are made to feel special about their differences, as well as educating us on aboriginal culture. In my first years of schooling, most children at my school hadn’t heard the name of our local aboriginal tribe, but by the end of my primary education, there was a Welcome to Country at the start of every school function, even the insignificant ones.
Whilst I’m trying not to sound like your grandparents talking about the early days, there has been significant change from the time I started Primary school to the end of it. Programs of all different shapes and sizes have sprung up, increasing further awareness about Aboriginal culture, and overall, making us learn to be proud of our differences.
By far the most enjoyable program that I have had the pleasure to participate in is the Twugia project. A number of Aboriginal children from schools across the area all came together to create a film, over the course of a number of workshops. We were taught the ins and outs of filming, animating, scripting and acting, while we also got to meet other Koori kids and make new friends.
The current Twugia project focuses on writing, an area I enjoy immensely. We are working with an Aboriginal author called Dr. Anita Heiss, and by the end of the project, we should have finished our very own book, filled with poetry, stories, and other items.
One day, I hope to become something like my cousin, who has won the Charles Perkins Scholarship, and will be the first Aboriginal man to obtain a doctorate from Oxford University in the UK. This is an amazing feat, and my family is very proud of his efforts. He hopes that this will inspire other Aboriginal kids not only to go on to university, but to seek higher degrees. This has certainly inspired me, as it not only proves that Aboriginal people can do big things if they set their mind to it, but it also shows that anyone can make their mark on the world, no matter their race or culture.