Clarence Valley Independent

Inclusivity in action

(l-r) Dave Harrington (Macquarie University), Elizabeth Smith (chair of Yaegl Elders), Liza Hamilton (MHS deputy principal and instructional leader for Aboriginal students), Greg Court (MHS principal) and Joanne Jamie (Macquarie University) are pictured at the ‘River to the Sea’ art exhibition opening at Yamba Museum – continues until June 16. Image: Fran Dowsett

Geoff Helisma |

Maclean High School is a quiet pacesetter when it comes to working towards reconciliation.

Last week, the school celebrated the tenth anniversary of its River of Learning program, which teaches the importance of the Clarence River traversing the Aboriginal nations of Bundjalung, Gumbaingirr and Yaegl and its ongoing significance to the area’s Aboriginal people.

The program is a collaborative project between Macquarie University, Yaegl elders and Maclean High School that presents Aboriginal cultural information and cultural science as part of the school’s syllabus – “a whole of school program in which all Year 7 students and all teachers participate”.
This week’s activities at the school, described as “inclusivity in action, celebrate the values and aspirations underpinning Reconciliation Week and illuminate [the] school’s values of respect, effort and safety through active engagement with the local Yaegl community”.

An art exhibition at Yamba Museum – themed ‘River to the Sea’ – officially opened the school’s celebration on Tuesday May 28.

Students from Maclean High School, Baryulgil Primary School and for the first time, Casin o High School entered artworks in the exhibition, which is open until June 16.

Maclean student, Jaydah Shone, was adjudged the winner.

A celebration day was held at the school on Wednesday May 29, which began with a “smoking ceremony conducted by Uncle Ron [Heron] and Sam Kapeen and presided over by 15 Yaegl Elders,” the school’s deputy principal, Liza Hamilton, said.

“It was a very special moment for everyone to watch, as our Aboriginal dancers performed a cleansing dance.

“The musical and dance items were outstanding throughout the ceremony.

“To the delight of the audience, the music group sang the chorus line to I am Australian in Yaygirr language, which was particularly breathtaking.”


She said parents were able “to see all the projects from the faculties that teach Year 7 [that] had developed displays that contained the Yaegl perspective in subjects such as English, Mathematics, Science, Geography, History, TAS, Special Education and the Creative and Performing Arts”.

The ‘official part’ of the day centred on speeches and acknowledgement of the past ten years.

“All speakers gave their perspective on the River of Learning program and how far we had all come in a decade,” Ms Hamilton said.

“Uncle Ron’s call for greater funding from the federal government, to allow schools the opportunity to grow and learn reconciliation resonated heavily with everyone.

“There was a collective theme expressed by all speakers; [that] something really special [had] come from the partnership between the elders, the local community, Macquarie University and the school over the last ten years.

“The program has brought staff and students together and built a new appreciation of Yaegl culture.

“It’s created a whole new level of respect and understanding that we want to continue building together.”


“All speakers gave their perspective on the River of Learning program and how far we had all come in a decade,” Ms Hamilton said.

“Uncle Ron’s call for greater funding from the federal government, to allow schools the opportunity to grow and learn reconciliation resonated heavily with everyone.

“There was a collective theme expressed by all speakers; [that] something really special [had] come from the partnership between the elders, the local community, Macquarie University and the school over the last ten years.

“The program has brought staff and students together and built a new appreciation of Yaegl culture.

“It’s created a whole new level of respect and understanding that we want to continue building together.”

Winner of the River of Learning art competition, Jaydah Shone (left), is picture with her (l-r) mother, Krystal, and brothers, Taurus and Noah. Image: Contributed

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