Published on: 28 November 2014

In 2014, Christ Church’s partnerships with several Indigenous communities, schools and organisations were brought under the one umbrella, offering Year 11 boys the opportunity to be part of a meaningful and unique immersion experience.

The Indigenous Immersion program includes Service in Action-led trips to Burringurrah, Looma, Alice Springs and Marble Bar led by Director of Service Learning and Leadership Richard Pengelley; Garnduwa Leadership Camps to the East and West Kimberley led by Indigenous Student Program Co-ordinator Chris Miles; and experiences for both students and staff to the Yakanarra Community School with Head of Senior School Roger Bayly.

Father Richard said 35 Year 11 boys took part in an immersion this year, applying to be selected for one of the experiences throughout the year. “In 10 years, 350 boys who will go on to influence society, will have smelt, tasted, heard, felt and touched the beauty and challenge of life in a remote indigenous community through this unique experience, and you can never unlearn what you have lived.”

Father Richard said the typical boy who lived in Dalkeith, Cottesloe or Claremont would never meet or have a meaningful experience with an Indigenous person, if it were not for these immersions or the School’s Indigenous Student Program. “Going and living amongst a group of people is the best way to understand who they are, their subtleties and complexities. With understanding, they become human beings, not issues,” he said.

Father Richard said boys and staff received far more from the communities than we were able to give to them. “Hospitality, trust, a deeper understanding of land, family, skin groups and bonds – these are complex and important to Indigenous people. I hope it sows the seed for the boys to want to deepen their understanding and for them to find their way of doing something meaningful as their lives unfold.”

The Service in Action-led experiences, held throughout the year, take six to eight boys at a time to remote communities. Most interactions take place in schools where the boys assist with learning programs, as well as joining in health and sports activities as well as camps.

Other partnerships include working with the Royal Life Saving Society in Burringurrah and with university students from UWA through the True Blue Dreaming charity in Looma. All trips include time for sightseeing and making connections with the land as well as nightly journaling sessions, not for documenting the day, but for writing about how their attitudes are being changed.

2015 will mark Christ Church’s 10-year association with Garnduwa and its annual youth leadership camps. The camps bring boys together from the East and West Kimberley regions seen as future role models within their communities. The goal is to develop leadership among the Indigenous boys and make them aware of the pathways available.

Year 11 students are offered invaluable insights into life in the Kimberley and traditional Aboriginal culture and activities, and these experiences and relationships are then used to help new Indigenous students adjust to life at school in Perth.

Father Richard said with each immersion, the boys become very aware of their privilege and our culture’s focus on materialism, and are always amazed at how the children in these communities are so happy. “One of the biggest difficulties the boys find when they come back is the pressure and expectation. Their frantic timetable and layers of expectations is something quite different in remote Indigenous communities,” he said. “They still remember how to be still and go with the flow.”