A Reflection by Paula Bacchiella (Deputy Principal, Edmund Rice College)
The beginning of an idea was created in India when I was invited to be part of the EREBB International Congress. It was in this beautiful land overflowing with spirituality and energy, that I met two amazing ladies. Two and a half years on we have stayed in touch and discuss and share all types of things. An idea of mine has been growing from this friendship, so I put out an invitation for their students to come and visit us here in Australia to experience an authentic Aboriginal Culture and Australian Farm Experience. You never know when you propose an idea and plan the program how it is going to work. What I think will be amazing and right on target may not be enjoyed by others. I also did not know how putting students from three different countries together, all with very different cultural backgrounds would go. To say there was a lot of unknowns would be an understatement. But how would a life be if we did not throw ourselves into the deep every now and again and take a risk. If Dr Wayne Tinsey, Mr Brian Garrone and Mrs Marie Barton did not say yes to my idea then I would not be writing this today. I would also like to acknowledge Ms Kavita from India and Ms Sharon from South Africa for also saying yes to this experience. I really loved the notion of having this wonderful melting pot of cultures and young minds and hearts coming together to share their experiences and lives.
Reflection had to be a part of the program because without taking time to share, think and reflect it would have been a missed opportunity. Therefore we came together regularly in our prayer circle to take time to be still and reflect. The lighting of the candles were important as fire represents energy and spirit. It also helps to cleanse, renew and regenerate. Our reflection was centred around the idea of HEAD, HEART, HANDS AND FEET. I wanted our students to share how they felt, what did they hear and touch, where they journeyed and what were their hopes for tomorrow. The questions were posed not only for the physical attributes but more importantly for them emotionally and spiritually. During this time we gathered and shared our sacred stories and collated our very own and personal cultural maps.
Each new day provided a different experience. The first three days were spent here on the college and the farm. They learnt how to round up cattle, groom and ride a horse, sort and tag and crutch lambs, and watched a live shearing demonstration. The highlight was the day we all went for a ride where everyone (including me!) got on a horse and went for a trail ride around the farm. The joy in the students’ faces was priceless. We enjoyed BBQs at the shearing shed and Shepherd’s hut in true Aussie farm style and went spotting for Kangaroos and possums at dusk. On Thursday they had a wonderful day at Caversham Wild Life Park, cuddling and feeding the koalas and kangaroos amongst other animals. That night we relaxed by a bonfire and experienced learning about how our Aboriginal People used the stars to navigate and hunt through story and the playing of the Didgeridoo by a local Elder.
Friday we had our farewell with our students. This day was very moving and it began with our Smoking Ceremony where our guests placed their finger print in our sand art symbolising that they were now part of our land and had become a part of our family and would always be welcome to our home. The smoke was to cleanse and bless our guests. The ceremony concluded with official gift giving to our guests to take back to their Colleges. Boomerangs, Clapping Sticks, Message Sticks, hand painted dot art candle holders, ERC Honey and Olive Oil was given as a sign of appreciation and thanks for coming to our home. Here on the front of our steps we shared a blessing. We then went to the Chapel for our farewell. In our stunning little Chapel one of the students, John, sang Amazing Grace as our parting blessing. I will never forget the stillness and silence in the Chapel as his beautiful voice washed over us all and settled into our bones.
After wiping the tears that ran down our cheeks we headed off to Perth to see our internationally recognised Aboriginal Performers of the Moorditj Mob where we experienced traditional dance. This experience was followed by spending time in their Cultural Centre and creating and making their own beautiful glass message stick to take home as a keepsake.
For lunch the students had the chance to enjoy traditional locally made Aussie pies and sausage rolls on the banks of the Swan River at South Perth and spot some black swans. That evening we had a massive Bonfire and Bush Tucker Night where on offer to taste was crocodile, emu and kangaroo sausages and traditional roo stew with damper. We were all entertained by the Aquinas College Rock Band who played on the stage of the shearing shed. It was an awesome night with our boys playing the drums with our Indian guests beat boxing and belting out some songs. Music, food and fire brought us all even closer together.
Saturday morning was an early start as we headed south for our boat trip to Penguin Island to see Sea Lions and wonderful bird life nesting on the islands. We then headed to Fremantle to explore the local markets for some much needed shopping and to absorb the smells, sights and sounds of our own local markets. We then headed to Aquinas College where the boarders met us to take us up the Canning River on their boats.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for accepting our invitation. The Congress in India was a huge gift to us all and one that keeps giving. Being invited to be a part of that amazing opportunity, allowed for friendships to develop and relationships to be built that have helped support collapsing walls across so many countries.
You all have touched my heart deeply and I loved every second of our time together. The gift of your presence has been the most wonderful thing our students and staff received. I was intensly moved by our final prayer reflection and your beautiful words of thanks, love and appreciation will stay with me forever.
Finally I am so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing supportive and hard working staff. Without them this experience would not have been what it blossomed into. The whole community from boarding, to laundry, to kitchen, to the office ladies, bus drivers, staff who walked along side me during the program, others who were just present and especially to the ladies who gave our guests the most incredible farm experiences. Thank you, thank you, thank you.