Silver Tree Steiner School

Kimberley Study Tour

Recently, three teachers from Silver Tree Steiner School undertook a study tour of schools in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.  The impulse for this tour came out of Silver Tree Steiner  School’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) work that they have been engaged with over several years.  Following is an excerpt from the teachers’ impressions of the tour.

Where to start with the lasting impressions of a tour to look at different educational settings in the Kimberley?  Well, we definitely walked away with a glimpse into the complexities of attempting education through a western lens in a culture that is deep, vast and disrupted.  We walked away with a deep respect for those in the system that are trying to advocate for what might work for their group of children, from Kindy to High School. The complexities of the Kimberley are great!!

This trip allowed us access to an aspect of the Kimberley that is usually inaccessible, unless you live and work in the north. With Donna Bieundurry (former Silver Tree Head of School) there to guide us, we were trusted to hear the realities of running a school. The size of the schools we visited varied. One Arm Point on the Dampier Peninusla ‘Aarrdyaloon’ (meaning fish eagle) was a remote community school (120 students) within the Bardi community. Their language program, and Aboriginal and Islander Education Officers (AIEOs), were highly valued and supported, with most pursuing further educational qualifications whilst working. There was a deep and respected relationship between the school and the community.

Derby District High School is delivering their language program via their On Country learning experiences. The Principal mentioned that with the transitory nature of Derby families, there were a huge number of languages spoken in the area beyond the traditional language groups. So a program of On Country currently works for them, where Elders take a group of children out for the day or perhaps to camp overnight. The group experience immersion of language and culture, hopefully with mud crabs or goanna to cook, depending on where and what is available in the bush.

In the Fitzroy Valley, the mighty Fitzroy River had diminished to large and small water holes, and we learnt how this fascinating river, that exits into King Sound and the tidal mud flats where Derby is situated, is the life-line, heart and soul of so many language groups and communities in the area.

Marninwarntikurra is a centre of inspiration that provides women and their families a location for positive growth and leadership. This centre provides support services to the community and, with an adjoining fence through to kindy, sits Baya Gawyi, the Child and Parent Centre for 0 – 7 year olds. What an extraordinarily beautiful kindy and childcare centre this is! Shaped like the local freshwater stingray from above, the spaces were naturally furnished, spacious, light, child-focused and welcoming. Education based around language, the seasons and, storytelling influenced by Steiner pedagogy. Here, the generous and imaginative crafting work of Jo Blundel, Alison Anthoni, Robyn Smith and Peta Bridge were gratefully and joyfully received!

Of course, we had to visit Wangkatjunka school and community. This school is close to our hearts, as this is the community that Donna Bieundurry’s, family are from. We walked through the school and saw changes that have been made, and visited the famous Olive Knight, a strong matriarchal advocate in the community. We let our eyes rest on the vast ranges beyond, and wandered down to marvel at the immense, dry Christmas Creek river bed and its rocks and trees. We were privileged to hear the stories and challenges of working and living in this remote community.

 

The Kimberley is an amazingly diverse and complex place; its history, its languages, its peoples are all inseparable from the environment. What an amazing, and hopefully ongoing, source of wonder this place could be for all our hearts and souls.

Thank you so much from the depths of our hearts to Donna Bieundurry and family, the Board of Governors, and the Silver Tree Steiner School Leadership Team for giving Robyn, Kaye and myself (Sheoaka) such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Aug 2021