A celebration of cultural change

“We all come from different nations, we all come from different mobs but, at the end of the day, we are one people, aren’t we?” So said, Mr Robbie Ahmat, Indigenous Programme Manager, at the Grimwade House Reconciliation Week Assembly. This philosophy was expressed time and time again during Reconciliation Week this year.

Reconciliation Week is an important part of the Melbourne Grammar School calendar because it shines a light on the support for Indigenous students and Reconciliation occurring across the School every day. It forms a key component of the School’s Indigenous Strategy which aims to ensure that our Indigenous students experience a sense of belonging at the School, and that all students value and respect Indigenous culture.

Without question, the highlight of the Week were the traditional dances performed by Indigenous students at each campus assembly. Choreographed by Year 10 student, Preston Cockatoo-Collins, the dances were representations of ceremonial dances of his tribe in South East Queensland. Dancers also wore ceremonial ochre and the colours of the clans of Western Arnhem Land regions tribe, to which a number of the boys belong.

Garnering deep respect from other students, this courageous act was a clear indication of the cultural shift that has been occurring at the School over the past few years.

“Eight boys stood in traditional garb and subjected themselves to the whole School staring at them,” says Rev’d Hans Christiansen, Senior Chaplain. “The fact that they felt safe enough to do this, to express themselves through dances they are just learning themselves, is nothing less than extraordinary.”

“Rather than being apologetic about who they were, as might have happened in the past, they stood up and said we are thriving and proud, and we are part of the School alongside all of you,” says Rev’d Christiansen. “This gives great hope for the future of this country because it shows we are now moving forward towards healing. And if they feel culturally safe here, they’ll start to feel safe in the Board Room, in Parliament, on the High Bench and in other places of leadership.”

Campus Assemblies also included a smoking ceremony as part of the Welcome to Country. The School is grateful to Graham Briggs, a Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri man, who carried out these undertakings.

The solemnity of each assembly was balanced with moments of lightness. At Grimwade House, students and staff were invited to learn some of the dance steps; at Wadhurst, they learnt to play the didgeridoo.

“Reconciliation Week is just one aspect of Melbourne Grammar’s Indigenous Programme and, while it provides an overt demonstration of the School’s firm commitment to Reconciliation, the milestone event also has broader implications,” says Headmaster, Mr Roy Kelley.

“The evolution of Reconciliation Week shows students how social reform can be enacted within a microcosm of a school – not always by grand gestures or loud voices, but sometimes through patient and long-term attention to cultural change,” says Mr Kelley. “This is an important learning for all students and one which I hope they will remember and consider long after they have left the School.”

Related topics