20 local Aboriginal high school students have joined Elders and creative educators at the Jigamy Aboriginal Keeping Place this week, as part of the inaugural Bundian Way Back to Country camp.
Students from Eden Marine, Bega and Bombala high schools attended the camp, which was provided free of charge through National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) funding.
The three-day event taught them about different aspects of Aboriginal culture, the importance of respecting their Elders, and how the cultural knowledge they gained at the camp can help them with employment opportunities post-school.
The students participated in a diverse range of activities over the three days, from Wednesday to Friday, including a drum workshop, kayaking, traditional art and dance, and corroboree.
Camp coordinator Meaghan Holt said the camp gave the students, who ranged in age from 14 to 17, a strong sense of cultural identity, and offered them a chance to learn more about where they come from.
“This is the first year that we’ve run this camp, but we’re hoping that we can continue and make it even bigger, because it has huge potential if we can invest the time into it,” Ms Holt said.
“We really tried to target this one to be a leadership camp, so we’ve selected students that participate positively at school, and they’ve built a really good camaraderie within the camp.
“Some of them have met before, but when they spend three days camping together, there’s a bond there.
“One of the boys is in year eight, and I thought initially that it might be tough for him being a bit younger, but they’ve all mixed so well.”
Ms Holt said the camp had also proven informative for the teaching staff, with many of the students also able to pass on their own local knowledge for the benefit of the whole group.
She said that the students all had bright future, citing the example of a Bombala High School student who recently received a once-in-a-lifetime experience in recognition of his achievements.
“Young Tim (Olsen) has just been over to South Korea; he was one of only 10 kids from NSW who were given the Premier’s ANZAC Memorial Scholarship to and learn about Australia’s military history over there,” she said.
“That’s the calibre of student that’s attending our camp; this program isn’t just for kids at risk.”
Bundian Way project officer John Blay echoed Ms Holt’s thoughts, saying the Bundian Way is opening up a new wave of opportunities for Aboriginal youths in the area.
He said a major part of the camp involved explaining post-schooling options to the students.
“We’re opening their eyes to the Bundian Way, and showing them all the opportunities that are available for them after school,” Mr Blay said.
“They can go university and do an arts degree, engineering, archaeology … and there will be jobs for them on the Bundian Way.
“We’re going to start opening up the Bundian Way later this year, and it’s going to be a major enterprise.
“The flow-on to the general economies of Eden and places like Delegate and Jindabyne are going to be enormous, and it will create a lot of jobs for these kids.”
Mr Blay invited Gulaga Dancers creator Warren Foster to the camp to teach the students some traditional Aboriginal dances.
Mr Foster taught the boys fishing and kangaroo dances, while the girls learned berry picking and bird spirit dances.
“The significance of the dances is to teach them about respect for themselves, the animals and the land; they did a really good job,” Mr Foster said.
“I reckon they need more camps like this, to give the kids that connection with their country and give them some pride in themselves, who they are and where they come from.
“It also helps them to see where they’re going in the future.
“It would be good to see non-Indigenous kids come here too, so we can educate them about our culture.”
NPWS Bombala area manager Franz Peters agreed, and said that shared learning is an eventual aim for the camp.
He said plans for the inaugural camp had been in the pipeline for around two years, and that a review after this camp would determine the future direction.
“It’s gone really well, and I think the kids have really enjoyed the activities because there’s been quite a diverse range of things to do, and it’s kept them really engaged,” Mr Peters said.
“The Bundian Way management committee has been after some funding to run a camp like this for quite some time, and we thought that Jigamy Farm, as the gateway to the Bundian Way, would be the most appropriate place to do it.
“They do run camps up at Bournda, which include activities around indigenous culture, but we’re keen to run more camps here.
“Jigamy is a bit more aligned to Aboriginal culture I think, because it is the Keeping Place; I think the camp has got a big future.”