We wake in Wurreranginy, a small Aboriginal Community in the East Kimberley of Western Australia, nestled in the hills just shy of 20km north of Purnululu National Park.
The backdrop is a stunning palette of natural beauty with a creek, home to two freshwater crocodiles, and a meeting place for numerous wild horses, bullocks and plenty of snakes.
It is a school day and a 100m walk to school for the staff and students who live in the community, while other students catch a bus from the nearby community of Warmun. Everyone is starting their day with a morning meeting where they greet each other in the Gija language and talk about the day ahead.
“The children here live a very free lifestyle,” Purnululu Aboriginal Independent Community School (PAICS) Principal Libby Hammond said, adding that they love to play after school, swim in the creek and go fishing, they are used to walking around barefoot, even on extremely hot days.
There are no shops or petrol stations, just a school and about 15 houses. “The nearest place to buy fresh food is Warmun a 70km round trip; we buy food in bulk from Kununurra, which is two-and-a-half hours away,” Dr Hammond said.
“The School provides a meal for all students and staff every day and this is prepared by local Gija staff; we also have the privilege of having Barramundi on the menu from time to time, which is very special.”
Dr Hammond has been living and teaching at the Wurreranginy Community, known as Frog Hollow, for one year. She recently visited St Stephen’s School’s Carramar and Duncraig campuses under a renewed partnership that will see the schools learn from each other, share understandings and resources opening up new experiences and opportunities for all parties.
While the urban campuses in Perth’s northern suburbs may look a bit different to life in the Kimberley, the passion for learning crosses all barriers.
“We come from very different worlds, but they complement one another,” she said.
“We have already been able to learn so much from St Stephen’s School’s programs and subject experts about how to deliver more effective and targeted programs for our students.
“The partnership also provides an opportunity for St Stephen’s School’s staff and students to experience life in an Aboriginal Community and to continue to engage in the School’s Service-Learning Program.
St Stephen’s School Principal Donella Beare is excited about the mutually beneficial relationship.
“Working alongside Libby and the Community, we want to strengthen our connection, one that is built on mutual respect, trust and inclusiveness,” Mrs Beare said.
“We can create opportunities for our students to learn about each other, develop respect for diversity and an understanding for cultural differences to ultimately help in fostering a spirit of reconciliation.”
“We can’t wait to host students and families from the Wurreranginy Community later this year, COVID restrictions permitting, where they will have an urban school experience, be immersed in our community, have access to all of our resources and gain an understanding of city life.”
Dr Hammond said she hopes that not only will the Purnululu students learn new skills but also form new and lasting friendships with St Stephen’s School students.
“Living in a remote place means they don’t always get the same opportunities that city students take for granted,” Dr Hammond said.
She said the flip side was having St Stephen’s School students visit the Community next year, if allowed, to develop their understanding of Aboriginal people.
“I hope they will learn the richness of Gija culture and language; appreciate the natural beauty and ancient history of the Kimberley and understand the impacts of colonisation that are still felt today.”