Pilgrimage expands future teachers’ understanding of Aboriginal culture

Pilgrims at Lake Mungo National Park.

29 July 2014

Students and staff from The University of Notre Dame Australia School of Education, Sydney went on a nine day pilgrimage in regional and remote areas of New South Wales with the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) earlier this month in pursuit of knowledge of Aboriginal culture and spirituality to inform their teaching practice.

Bachelor of Primary Education (Religious Education) student, Scott Walker, and Bachelor of Education (Birth to Twelve Years) student, Hanne Pedersen, joined Lecturer, Ms Julie Maakrun, and sessional staff, Dr Gabrielle Russell-Mundine and Ms Julieann Coombes, on the Spiritual Pilgrimage of Aboriginal Sacred Sites in NSW. The pilgrimage coincided with NAIDOC Week, providing an immersion experience which presented opportunities for the pilgrims to connect with Aboriginal people and their land. 

The students joined the local community in a NAIDOC Week festival held in Broken Hill, which gave an insight into some of the issues currently facing members of the Aboriginal community, including health and training. Hanne believes the pilgrimage has furthered her understanding of Aboriginal culture and will inform her teaching practices.

“I received a first-hand experience into one of the oldest cultures of the world that you cannot gain from sitting in a classroom,” Hanne said.

“Learning about the ways in which Aboriginal people lived and educated their children and how best to approach Aboriginal culture today is something that I will carry with me into my own classroom.”

The pilgrimage included visits to Lake Mungo National Park, a place of great significance to the Ngyiampaa, Mutthi Mutthi and Southern Paakantyi people, where their connection with the land dates back more than 40,000 years. 

Pilgrims also visited Wilcannia, Menindee, and the Mutiwintji National Park – one of the Aboriginal people's oldest and most sacred sites – where amongst the caves are outstanding examples of Aboriginal rock art.

“All teachers are now expected to teach Aboriginal perspectives across the curriculum. For many this can be challenging to do well, when their own exposure to Aboriginal perspectives is limited,” Dr Gabrielle Russell-Mundine, sessional lecturer at Notre Dame’s School of Education, Sydney and ACM's Project Research Officer said.

“The experiences we had on the pilgrimage helped bridge those gaps in understanding by providing opportunities to learn more about Aboriginal peoples, their diverse cultures and our shared histories. Importantly though, the aim of the journey is not just to learn about others, but also to reflect on our own cultures and spirituality and what that means for us as educators, particularly in culturally diverse spaces.”

Both Scott and Hanne were among student delegates who met with Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes and Senior Australian of the Year, Fred Chaney, in May at the Wayside Chapel in Sydney, as part of the Recognise Campaign. 

Notre Dame’s School of Education Sydney is committed to offering growth experiences, such as the pilgrimage, to ensure that future teachers are able to respond effectively to cultural diversity and build the disposition to become active and reflective practitioners. 

Hannah Guilfoyle: Tel (02) 8204 4141; hannah.guilfoyle@nd.edu.au