Reconciliation SA’s, Education Project Officer – Natalie Gentle’s trip to Ridgehaven Primary School
The August 2020, Reconciliation SA National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Children’s Art Competition provided many students and schools across South Australia an opportunity to explore children’s voices and their connections to their Elders and their role in communities. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is a time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities and all Australians, celebrate the strengths and culture of children. It is an opportunity for all of the Australian Community to show support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, as well as learn about the crucial impact that culture, family and community play in the life of every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child.
Reconciliation SA were overwhelmed by the response to this competition with hundreds of entries that provided a very difficult job for judges.
Artworks submitted spoke to both the theme of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day ” We are Elders of tomorrow, hear our voice” and demonstrated artistic skills of each of the individual students.
In the hundreds of entries, one piece caught the eye of our judges and team here at Reconciliation SA, however, it fell outside the criteria of ‘Individual Works’ as their submission was a group effort.
However, the voices of children need to be heard and it was with great pleasure that Reconciliation SA took a trip out to Ridgehaven Primary School to listen too and hear from the students themselves about their art work and what it meant for them.
During term two a group of children worked on the collaborative art project which brought together their interests, ideas, and understanding of each others cultural similarities and differences. Students explained that they were each given a small part of the canvas each, where they were encouraged to make their mark and share their voice by painting something that was special to them. Students researched different methods of Aboriginal painting, use of symbols and used these ideas to inspire their own painting. The result was a painting that visibly shows each child and their unique connection and contribution to their school and community.
“we need to keep the ocean clean, to make the starfish alive…not putting rubbish in the ocean or food.”
Lawson was very interested in starfish, and especially the fact that starfish can grow their limbs back. It was important to him that these animals were cared for, and that the ocean was a place where some of his favourite animals could thrive.
Charlie, 12 years old, was proud of the work achieved by his peers. “When you look at it from far away, it looks perfect”. Charlie chose to paint a snake
“there are so many things a snake can do – it sheds, it’s a hunter, its very fierce for something so small… because I’m not that big, but I like to be in rough things, I think the snake represents me a lot.”
Charlie was most excited that he got to see the end product before anyone else.
Jashyamae 13 years old, wanted to pay tribute to her late brother, and chose to paint a lizard.
“His favourite animal was a lizard. He always had like 6 of them as pets.”
A group of siblings contributed to the painting together, and this gesture was important to all of them.
Other children used the painting as a way of connecting to their Aboriginal culture. Jeramiah 13 years old chose a boomerang, as he enjoyed connecting with his family when they showed him how to use one, and how to hunt with one.
“It was a really funny story. I told Ms Bruer that I actually have a different idea, and that I wanted to paint my hand and press it on the painting. Ms Bruer got so excited and it made me laugh for the rest of the day.”
While the painting was an opportunity to express their individuality, the children also got to use it as an opportunity to share their identity. Jeramiah was more excited to share the artwork of his peers, and how they were all connected as a group. He explained that at the top of the painting was a meeting between all the older kids, and then a river flowed down the middle of the painting to a meeting of the younger children.
Charmaine Bruer has been the Aboriginal Education Teacher at Ridgehaven Primary School for 8 years and has appreciated the opportunity to build relationships with the students and watch them grow. This art project has been a culmination of that time, as several students are moving on to secondary school next year, and have spent their entire primary school lives visiting Ms Bruer’s office, and working with her to be prepared for their next schooling step.
One of Charmaine’s priorities has been to support conversations, research and narratives about heritage and ancestry. Creating artwork has been a way to build relationships with the children, and to appreciate different forms of Aboriginal artwork. What has resulted is a group of children that are proud of their Aboriginal identity, and are keen to learn more about themselves. Harmony has developed a sense of pride, saying “I used to be really shy, but I learned to build up my courage.”
As a final question, I asked the students about what they thought this years theme “We are the elders of the future, hear our voice” meant to them, and could mean to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. With a new focus on closing the gap initiatives, and a particular focus on school performance, now more than ever it is important to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in decisions that will ultimately impact their lives, and allow them to share ideas that will improve their schooling lives.
Jashyamae reflected that focusing on Aboriginal children’s voices is
“a good thing, because not many Aboriginal voices are heard. I feel happy and proud that people want to hear our voice and hear what we have to say. It is important to listen to the younger generation.”
If we can take anything from this group work, it is that children need an opportunity to express their opinions and share them with adults who can influence decisions for them. This does not always need to be conversation, as allowing children to explore meaning through visual art is a powerful way for them to share their identity and explore who they are.
Reconciliation SA would like to acknowledge that this competition could only be made possible with sponsorship of the Department for Child Protection.