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Bond takes Women Yarning Up to the Torres Strait Islands

Principals from some of Australia’s most progressive girls’ schools have taken time out for an ‘excursion’ of their own … to the isolated Indigenous communities of the Torres Strait Islands.

The annual Women’s Yarning Up trip is organized by Bond University in conjunction with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia (AGSA) to provide an in-depth insight into the challenges and choices that impact on Indigenous education in the 21st century.

This year’s itinerary included visits to Murray (Mer) Island and Thursday Island for Alliance Principals from Santa Sabina College (NSW), Wenona (NSW), Melbourne Girls’ College (Vic), Mary MacKillop College (SA) and St Patrick’s College (Qld), along with Siobhan Jackson, Principal of Lockhart River School in far north Queensland who hosted last year’s Women Yarning Up visit.

The group also included former Brisbane Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, Regional General Manager – Queensland of ISS Facility Services Kim Van-Look and Director of Atkinson Solutions Stephanie Atkinson.

“For several years now, Bond University has focused on forging university pathways for Indigenous students,” said Catherine O’Sullivan, Bond University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Pathways and Partnerships, who convened and led the group.

“We currently have 45 Indigenous students studying degrees at our Gold Coast campus, with more than half assisted by scholarships.

“Bond also has a very strong partnership with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, directed towards improving education and career outcomes for women.

“Many of the Alliance schools have Indigenous students from remote communities so the Women’s Yarning Up initiative provides a unique opportunity for these leading educators to see first-hand the issues faced by Indigenous families living in isolated regions like the Torres Strait Islands.”

The group was co-hosted by Indigenous representatives Leann Wilson from Regional Economic Solutions and a Bond University Fellow; Chair of the Queensland Indigenous Education Consultative Committee and Managing Director of Recruitment Outcomes, Leon Epong; and Torres Strait local Mel Nash, editor of Islander Magazine, who were instrumental in establishing connections with the island Elders and community leaders, and provided insight into local customs, history and protocols.

The tour included visits to Tagai State College’s Murray Island campus where the group met with School Principal Jonathon Case and his teaching and support staff, as well as working with the children in their classrooms. The group also made a pilgrimage to the gravesite of Eddie Koiki Mabo whose landmark Native Title claim put the island in the national spotlight.

They then travelled to Thursday Island where traditional owner and Kuarareg elder, Milton Savage, presented a special Welcome to Country at a reception attended by representatives from the Torres Strait Region Authority, the Torres Strait Islanders Regional Education Council, Tagai State College, Kaziw Meta College and Our Lady of the Sacred Heart School.

The final day of their visit was spent touring Tagai State College’s senior campus and boarding facilities, which provides secondary schooling for children from Tagai’s primary campuses on 16 other islands.

“The trip has been a powerful learning opportunity for all of the Alliance Principals,” said Dr Maree Herrett, Executive member of the AGSA and Principal of Santa Sabina College.

“It was a great opportunity to meet the local Principals and teachers, and to talk at length with community Elders, leaders and parents.

“But the highlight for me was hearing the local Murray Island women speak so openly and honestly about what they want for their children.

“They told us how hard it is for them to send their 12 year olds away to high school on Thursday Island or even further away to mainland schools but that they are passionate about them having the opportunity of a good education.

“They also talked about wanting their daughters to have a voice; to have the confidence to speak out in a way that their mothers and grandmothers haven’t been able to do.”

Individual discussions also focussed on forging partnerships between the Alliance schools and Tagai State College campuses to create linkages for both students and educators.

“For Bond University, the Women’s Yarning Up initiative is all about providing new learnings and new opportunities; to connect people to a part of Australia that they would rarely visit,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

“Ultimately, closing the gap is about the education pathway – from primary to secondary to university or training – that will give Indigenous Australians the best opportunity to establish a life-long career.

“Each one of these Principals will share what they have learnt with their own community of teachers, students and families. Our businesswomen will also incorporate their impressions into their circles.

“And I am confident that all of them will continue the dialogue we have started with the Torres Strait Islander communities; listening to what they need and reaching out to create opportunities that will make a real difference.”

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