Despite living in Australia all my life, I’ve never visited any Indigenous communities, or really even ventured too far off the beaten track. So, when the opportunity rose to join a trip to Lockhart River, an Indigenous community in Cape York in Far North Queensland, I jumped at the chance.
The trip was organised by Bond University as part of its leadership activities with the Alliance of Girls Schools, so 14 women and two very brave men found themselves on a Dash-8 flying in and out of some of the smallest airports I’ve ever encountered.
The moment we landed we were greeted with incredibly warm welcomes from this lovely open-hearted community, who generously shared their time, food and most importantly, stories, with us over the next four days.
With most of our party being school principals, there was a heavy educational focus, and we were all struck by the important and increasing role of the school as a community hub, and the significant work being done by the council and other community bodies in supporting this and prioritising the importance of education.
I was previously unaware that the only way for children to access secondary education was to move away from their community to attend boarding school, and wasn’t at all surprised to hear that was a very difficult adjustment for all parties concerned — children, parents, the local community and the boarding school. It was difficult to imagine having this as my only choice for my own 12-yea- old daughter, and while there are no easy solutions, it seemed clear that there’s a need to explore other options.
No easy solutions was a message that kept replaying in our minds all weekend. As leaders of schools and businesses, all of the members of our group are used to having to solve problems on a regular basis and had to keep reminding ourselves that this trip was not about us flying in and identifying potential solutions, but building relationships with the community which would allow us to work with them on an ongoing basis, and support them as they continue to develop ideas and initiatives that work in their culture and environment.
A great start was made in building those relationships, with the community hosting us in a range of environments and forums. The school runs a small secondary student program for those who have not been able to transition to a boarding school environment and those students ran pop-up outdoor restaurants to host lunches over the weekend, the first in a spectacular beachside location followed up with a beautiful rainforest setting the next.
My Google Glass was a great source of interest for the children (and a good few of the adults as well!) and we had a great time playing around with them. The kids took some great pictures running through the rainforest, and loved showing them off to their parents.
This trip was a wonderful illustration of the value of taking time out to share stories, listen and learn. Not only did we learn so much from the people of Lockhart River who shared their stories with us so generously, but as you might imagine with 14 women travelling together we also found plenty of stories to share and learnings to be had (the men had more than a few to contribute as well!).
I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to have visited this beautiful part of Australia for the first time, and look forward to an ongoing relationship with the people of Lockhart River.
(Thank you to the lovely Karen Ransome who took all of the photos I have included in here)