In September 2018 a group of Year 11 students from Sydney travelled to Karntimarta, a remote community in the Pilbara, Western Australia, where they spent eight days immersed in the culture of the community.
Accompanying them were Greg and Lois Bray, retired primary school teachers from Mudgee in Central West New South Wales. Greg and Lois began their teaching careers in the late 1970s in a western New South Wales Aboriginal community, moving then to Mudgee where they have taught in several schools, covering a variety of grades. During 2015 and 2016 they were fortunate to be included in an immersion program involving Year 10 students from a school in their home town. These immersions were to Gapuwiak in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory and Kununurra in Western Australia.
Greg and Lois write:
Through our experiences with a number of school visits to Aboriginal communities over the past few years, we have developed a real interest and appreciation of how cultural immersion can play a significant role in developing cross cultural respect and awareness among children. Direct experience of how others live, even if only for a short time, can create lasting impressions that set attitudes for life.
Karntimarta has a population of approximately 150. The community consists of a four-classroom school covering Years K - 12, family playgroup centre, health clinic, teacher housing and community housing.
The Strelley Community School of which Karntimarta Campus is part, is the oldest continually operational Independent Aboriginal Community School in Australia. It commenced operation in 1976 and has an enrolment of approximately 70 students. The school and the community are always very welcoming of others, encouraging all to immerse themselves in the culture of this wonderful community.
Thirteen Year 11 students and two teachers from St Vincent's College, Sydney (the Sydney mob), an immersion coordinator as well as Lois and Greg Bray took part in the immersion.
The Karntimarta mob including children of all ages and adults, were encouraged and invited to participate in a variety of activities in an exchange of friendship and cultural awareness.
The Karntimarta and Sydney mobs combined to share in activities such as ‘Beauty Parlour’, pizza making and disco evening, swimming and water games at Marble Bar swimming pool, paired Aboriginal painting sessions led by the Karntimarta mob students, games within the school grounds, gardening in the community vegetable garden, and ball games on the court.
A sleep-out at Pardoo Station was a highlight of the week as it involved not only children but family groups. A total of 65 people slept under the stars, went fishing and had a cafe meal.
While in the Pilbara there were many shared meals between both mobs. The Curry in A Hurry involved the Sydney mob preparing three curries. During the afternoon the Sydney mob visited all the homes to take orders for the evening. Over 100 individually packaged curries were delivered by the Sydney mob to the appreciative and amused Karntimarta mob.
The campfire cookout was another fun evening where the Sydney mob cooked a chicken stew and the Karntimarta mob in return cooked kangaroo tails and damper. The evening included face and body painting, and campfire stories.
Aboriginal artworks, an integral part of the school environment, are produced in the designated community art room. The Sydney mob were able to meet and talk with some of the artists, watch them in action, and view and purchase artworks.
After the Sydney mob returned home we stayed on in the community while Karntimarta students returned to their school routine. Although tired after such a busy week with their visitors, the students were keen to return to school. In the few days we were there the school and community received several visiting teams, including the Earbus Foundation of Western Australia which visits monthly for ear checks; the EON Foundation for the Community & School Edible Garden Project; and a public health team for a weekly clinic.
Everyone involved in the immersion experienced a variety of activities that fostered new friendships and offered opportunities for sharing and development of cultural awareness. All gained new insights, new friendships and a more informed understanding of life and associated in such remote communities.