Too many times this year we have had our hearts broken by the extreme violence and hatred that comes from fearing “the other.” From Christchurch, Sri Lanka and the United States we have mourned with different targeted communities through each new tragedy.
With this in mind it is especially gratifying to paint a different scene for you. This one involves young Jewish students engaged in a spontaneous musical jam with First Nations members of the Black Rock Band. I stood by while the combined group sang, played guitar, kazoo and didjeridoo in a mutual expression of joy and friendship.
For the third year in a row we hosted the Black Rock Band from West Arnhem Land, near where our Year 8 students will shortly visit as part of their Jabiru camp. The band played a joyous set for us in our annual Reconciliation Assembly. This assembly was carefully designed to acknowledge the proud culture and connection with country experienced by Australia’s First Nations.
This knowledge and understanding are key aspects of our curriculum and peak school experiences. They are explored through our unique relationship with Indigicate – our indigenous-run outdoor education team, our Jabiru experience, through our special commemorations and events and through our academic program.
In this column I occasionally bemoan some of the negative impacts that social media have on our young students’ lives, but did you know that many of our students have used social media to remain in close contact with the indigenous students that they met when in the Northern Territory? In designing our program, we felt that it was crucial that our students are granted the opportunity to demystify the other and form bonds with indigenous students of their own age and stage.
The peak of the assembly was a raucous and passionate rendition of Black Rock’s new song, Red, Yellow and Black which was well supported by an audience of students wearing those colours in honour of the special day.
This week I was also privileged to attend a preview screening of the Adam Goodes documentary The Final Quarter which I commend to you all. The film follows the plight of Adam Goodes, one of the greatest AFL players of his generation, and a proud descendant of the indigenous Adnyamathanha and Narungga nations. Sadly he faced the indignity of being repeatedly booed in the final stages of his career. Holocaust scholar, Yehuda Bauer, famously wrote, “Thou shall not be a perpetrator, thou shall not be a victim, and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.” We are active in teaching our students to be upstanders wherever they can. And so during this period in 2015 I wrote to Mr Goodes with a letter of appreciation and support on behalf of our community.
Likewise, this week I was compelled to write to former footballer Mal Brown urging him to apologise for comments he made on last week’s Sunday Footy Show in which he referred to Kevin Bartlett as “very Jewish” for not buying drinks. In my letter I wrote:
“I wonder what your reaction would be if one of my young students were to ask you what you meant when you said that Kevin Bartlett was “very Jewish”. What would you say?
“Would you say you were just joking? What if they asked you to explain the joke? Would you say that it is because you think Jewish people are greedy? Would you say that it is because they are uncharitable? Would you say it is because they are selfish?”
I wanted to point out that words do matter. Especially words broadcast to a large audience on television. I explained that he does not have a right to make our students feel ashamed of who they are.
At our school we will take opportunities to build thriving, respectful relationships with other communities and we also make the effort to stand up when these values come under challenge. We try to bridge gaps in order to highlight that our similarities are far more powerful than our differences and to contribute meaningfully to the blessing of a peacefully, diverse community.