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Aboriginal Conference explores funding and the future

May 25, 2018

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“Values, visions and voices” was the theme and all these aspects were shared by Federation’s Aboriginal members at their 22nd conference on Saturday 19 May.

Among the “visions” was the premiere of naa muru gurung (to see a path for children), a documentary commissioned by Federation in its centenary year to inspire conversations about the work of teacher activists and the Aboriginal education journey, past, present and future.

The premiere was screened on the Saturday evening after conference; a program for the film’s rollout across the state is in the planning stages.

The traditional Friday Night Forum before conference featured Bruce Pascoe, author of Dark Emu who also gave the keynote address at conference, under the theme “Agriculture or Accident?”.

His book, which uses evidence gathered from the records and diaries of Australian explorers, proposes a strong argument that insists Aboriginal people across the country were planting, irrigating, harvesting and storing crops in stark contrast to the hunter-gatherer tag.

“The hillsides of Melbourne were terraced in the production of murrnong [a tuber staple],” Mr Pascoe said. “Lieutenant [George] Grey in Western Australia found dozens of these yam pastures that stretched to the horizon in both directions.

“These are massive devotions of labour and yet they don’t appear in our history books. Who was it? What professor, what curriculum maker, what school teacher, what politician read those books in 1840, 1850, or whenever, and decided they wouldn’t appear in the Australian curriculum?”

In relating the observations of early explorers, Mr Pascoe said: “I reckon that any history teacher who teaches a boring lesson on history should get a kicking because it’s so easy to fascinate kids by telling them [these stories].”

Federation Senior Vice President Henry Rajendra welcomed members to the Friday Forum and expressed dismay at the 10-year review of the Close The Gap report and the Turnbull Government’s interpretation of its results.

“It’s nothing short of devastating that report,” he said, “the gaps aren’t closing; across education, health, mortality, life expectancy and employment.

Mr Rajendra told delegates on Saturday, he had just returned from a visit to Wilcannia in western NSW that highlighted how deep the funding cuts run in rural and remote NSW.

“The teachers there knew that if the Turnbull Government had committed to the final two years of the Gonski agreement instead of scrapping it they would have had an extra $600,000 for this year and next year,” he told conference.

“That would have gone a long, way, six extra teachers … and dare I be ambitious and imagine some of those extra teachers could be specialist teachers because they have an industrial arts facility where they don’t have an industrial arts teacher. I saw the equipment, it looked pretty good, but it was dormant.”

Public Education Day on 24 May was a central theme for many speakers and workshop presenters as a chance to engage school communities around the Fair Funding Now! campaign.

Federation’s Targeted Seats Coordinator Jason Gerke urged delegates to design activities at their school for 24 May that would highlight achievements made under the original Gonski funding and invite parents to take part and discuss these successes.

“We’re looking at an $856 million cut over 2018-2019 in our public schools and we need to highlight the risks of that and what we believe is the best way of doing that is to show the great things happening in our schools,” he said. “We want to invite the communities to come into the schools to have a look, and see first-hand the difference these programs make in our schools and in the lives of our Indigenous kids.”

Conference workshops dealt with industrial and Federation activist issue such as:

  • organising around local issues and problems – an approach for Federation Workplace Committees
  • “Students with Disability – Care over Control!”
  • Women’s Workplace Rights: What you need to know and how the Federation helps
  • Maintenance of Accreditation for pre-2004 teachers
  • Getting the right pay: how service and accreditation affect your salary
  • Beginning Teachers – Accreditation and knowing your working conditions
  • “Social media – legal responsibilities”, presented by New Law
  • Dignity and respect in the workplace
  • Stop TAFE Cuts – what’s the next phase for TAFE.

While the workshops integrated information relevant from an Aboriginal education perspective, others dealt with the issues from that perspective directly, including:

  • Collective approaches to Performance and Development to support Aboriginal education and teachers
  • “Intersectionality Counts; an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-LGBTIQ perspective”.

NESA gave a presentation as it prepares to consult on a set of the draft initiatives of its Commitment to Aboriginal Education that introduced participants to the proposed, draft initiatives in advance of public consultation and provide opportunity for discussion and feedback.

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