In 2019 Kate McCormick, the IEU Rep at St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula, applied for the inaugural IEU Victoria Tasmania Education for Sustainability Grant. The grant was awarded to the school and provided funds to support the expansion of their sustainability and Indigenous cultural programs.
IEU Organiser Lou Prichard Nicholson outlines how the school’s program is enabling the students to deepen the relationship between their understanding of the local Indigenous people and their own sustainable practices. The program also highlights ways in which we can embrace and engage with ancient Indigenous wisdom in our daily lives.
Harnessing of cross-curriculum priorities
The teaching of cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian Curriculum can enrich a student’s understanding of their place in the world, specifically with regard to Australia’s engagement with Asia, and also in the areas of Sustainability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures.
Through the cross-curriculum priority framework, the Australian Curriculum is working to address two distinct needs with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education:
- that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum of each of the learning areas, can fully participate in the curriculum and can build their self-esteem, and
- that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority is designed for all students to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures (Australian Curriculum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Overview).
Blending delivery of the curriculum priorities in the areas of sustainability and Indigenous culture has the potential to deepen the knowledge base of a generation of Australian students and strengthen their connection to both Country as well as sustainable Indigenous practices. Curriculum delivery, if managed in this way, has the capacity to increase the reach of Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan to our youngest citizens and bring about positive communal attitudinal change.
Embedding Indigenous culture into sustainability studies could encourage our nation’s youth to view discussion, acknowledgment and consideration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues as the norm, and as usual and potentially necessary to everyday discourse.
St Thomas More’s Catholic Primary School in the suburb of Mount Eliza has the benefit of being situated on a large piece of land substantially covered by bush, backing onto Kackeraboite Creek. As for most primary schools in recent times, St Thomas More’s has been building its commitment to sustainability for many years.
In such a setting the school has a strong connection with the outdoors and a focus on outdoor learning.
The school has set about providing for the cross-curriculum requirement for sustainability with many of the usual and important matters covered, such as recycling, composting, energy saving arrangements and solar panels, tank water, nude food and minimising paper usage and waste. Recently there has been a growing connection of their sustainability curriculum with an Indigenous focus in the program.
Students at St Thomas More are now maintaining the bushland with weeding and planting of native trees, and they visit the creek to check the water clarity and to remove rubbish. However, there was a push to take the connection between the curriculum priorities further.
Initially the school community started to gather materials to make natural hives for native insects. Plans have been drawn up for large garden beds for each year level to plant and care for a large vegetable garden featuring edible native plants. The students have discovered that Indigenous plants such as finger limes, lilly-pilly, midyim berries and Davidson’s plums will all grow well in their area. The students will learn how to prepare the Indigenous foods grown for eating.
Importantly, the school plans to work with the local Indigenous community for advice on planting and on the history of the area.
Bunjil, the wedge-tailed eagle is the animal totem for the Mornington Peninsula and the garden will incorporate it with children’s art and sculpture.
The change to the remote-learning mode of delivery through 2020 has resulted in the school continuing this work into 2021. The intention is to continue the linking of sustainability and Indigenous culture to become a part of the ongoing teaching and learning at St Thomas More’s well into the future.
Schools making connections with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is becoming more widespread. Connecting with Indigenous sustainable practices brings a fresh understanding to what is possible for Australians wanting to live more sustainably in the 21st century.
The public connection by teachers, as they deliver the cross-curriculum priorities together, can also make a clear acknowledgment that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a rich and continuous connection to the land on which we all live.
Most importantly and powerfully, this deepening of all Australian students’ connection to their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities via sustainability education has the potential to further the necessary reconciliation of our entire Australian community.