Young Aboriginal students at Courallie High School worked with Aboriginal
artists to produce their own visual and performing arts interpretation
of the Rainbow Serpent story. Creating an off-school learning environment
and setting high expectations gave the students a strong sense of
ownership of the project. In an informal learning environment their
attitude to authority improved, as did attendance rates at school.
The Moree Plains Shire Council sponsors a highly successful HELP
project that addresses the literacy and numeracy needs of young
people in the region. However, along with other government-funded
organisations, the Council has found it difficult to reach young
Aboriginal street kids who experience high levels of disadvantage.
These young people often engage in chronic truancy, deal with problems
such as family alcoholism, experience little parental or guardian
guidance and find it difficult to manage anger.
Courallie High School, the local school, has implemented a number
of strategies over the years to reduce truancy levels amongst this
group of young people. However, they were looking for a fresh approach
and welcomed the opportunity to join the Council in running an innovative
arts-based pilot project aimed at reducing truancy and encouraging
literacy. The project became the catalyst for the first Aboriginal
cultural event in Moree in recent years.
took a holistic approach to achieving a range of objectives with
young people at risk in the Moree, Boggabilla and Toomelah districts.
For the school, the primary objectives were to reduce truancy and
student suspension rates - initially more an ideal than a realistic
objectives of the Strategic Pilot Project were to engender an interest
in remaining at school; develop interpersonal and social skills;
and increase confidence and self-esteem.
Both the school
and the project coordinator were committed to maintaining cultural
integrity and encouraging community ownership of the project.
The young people had the opportunity to work with local Aboriginal
artists and Aboriginal community members to develop a contemporary
visual and performing arts interpretation of the story of the Rainbow
Serpent, whose resting place is Boobera Lagoon near Moree.
The pilot used festival activities to develop skills in music, writing
and dance over a period of 20 weeks.
The project reached approximately 45 young people with a core group
of 20. Work groups included a girls' contemporary Aboriginal dance
class, a boys' traditional dance troupe, a visual arts group and
a street theatre/ music group.
previously high truancy rates, attended school more regularly as
a result of participating in the project. One girl, who had not
attended school for over a year, decided to return as she thought
school might be different now and she wanted to undertake a visual
and performing arts course.
There was a
fourfold reduction in suspensions and referrals during the Strategic
There was a
noticeable change in the participants' attitude to authority, particularly
after the project moved away from the school. The School Principal
believed this was partly due to the fact that the students were
not ordered and marched around as they are at school. He described
the project as 'organised chaos', which could not work in a school
environment with its diverse groups of young people.
community elders conveyed the stories to the young people and were
involved in negotiations about ways of repackaging traditional stories
in a contemporary way.
The sense of
community ownership led to the communities wanting to see a course
such as this continue. They want the course to be comparable with
other vocational visual and performing arts courses.
drew wide public support from figures such as the Mayor, the past
General Manager of Council, The Aboriginal Education Consultative
Group and local business people. The project's Steering Committee
had a diverse membership drawn from the local Aboriginal community,
government community agencies and the education sector.
There was significant
in-kind and financial support for the project, e.g. free use of
premises, donation of equipment and materials and recruitment of
volunteers to make costumes and props.
restrictions imposed by the school environment, the project coordinator
relocated the project to the local Police Citizens Youth Club and
basketball stadium. Attendance rates increased dramatically in the
less formal environment and led quickly to the young people developing
a sense of ownership and identification with the project.
Coordinator, tutors and community members had high expectations
of the participants and their performance abilities. This contributed
to the high attendance rates.
The young participants
saw the cultural experience as important and felt that the Aboriginal
tutors were not just helping the teachers, but were sincerely interested
drew on the experience of the local Aboriginal Community and recognised
the expertise of local artists and the community's elders. The fact
that the Rainbow Serpent story is a significant local story added
to the uniqueness of the project.
had a high level of ownership of the project, and through it gained
confidence in their own potential. Because they could explore their
local stories in a contemporary context they could bring together
issues and subjects important to them. The project gave them a sense
of kinship and cultural belonging that did not conflict with their
own social and cultural realities.
Access to a
bus to transport participants to venues would have reduced reliance
on public transport and increased attendance rates.
in the early stages of the project, there were problems with the
availability of venues. Continuity of venue from the very start
would have enabled tutors to keep participants more focused.