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Learning on country at Garma Youth Forum

28 July 2017
University staff and students lead workshops for school students

Young people from across Australia will take part in activities run by the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music, Sydney College of the Arts, Faculty of Science and Sydney University Law Society students in Arnhem Land.

A photo of Aboriginal people in traditional dress sitting on the ground.

Garma Festival

From 4 August, over 180 school students aged 8 to 18 will take part in a unique cultural exchange at the Gulkula ceremonial grounds in north-east Arnhem Land.

Run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation and sponsored by the University of Sydney, the Youth Forum runs as part of the annual Garma Festival of Indigenous culture.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) Professor Shane Houston, a Gangulu man from central Queensland, said the University’s commitment was a public statement of its ambitions.

“Our Garma sponsorship demonstrates the value the University places on cultural competency, diversity and inclusion – vital to achieve the aims of our Wingara Mura Bunga Burrabugu strategy to create higher education and leadership opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he said.

It’s important we explore each other’s cultures and experiences, for us all – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, visitors and residents – to expand and enrich our ability to appreciate and respect difference, to share common aspirations and to create the sort of society we all want for our grandchildren.
Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)
A photo of young Aboriginal children in traditional dress dancing.

Garma Festival

Professor Jakelin Troy, a Ngarigu woman of the Snowy Mountains in southern NSW and the University’s Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research, said the festival would provide a wealth of cultural experiences and learning opportunities for the school students, and the participating team of staff and students from the University.

“We’re proud to support the Garma Youth Forum and the school students from across the country taking part in this unique opportunity to engage with Aboriginal community and culture.

“Together these students, with their varied backgrounds and life experiences, represent the future of our country. The Forum will present them with a powerful example of how inclusion and understanding can practically operate.

“We’re also eager to join in the festival activities, and learn and grow ourselves.”

While at Garma, the attending University staff and students will take part in programs that support the practice, preservation, maintenance and presentation of traditional knowledge systems and cultural traditions and practices, including Bunggul (traditional dance), Manikay (song), Miny' tji (art) and ceremony.

Student workshops

Over four days, the University of Sydney will lead a series of workshops for the school students exploring the theme for this year’s event, the Yolngu concept of Makarrata – a traditional peace-making ceremony to heal the divisions of the past.

  • Creative Arts and Design, in which Sydney College of the Arts staff and students will inspire the school students to paint the sky using dribble and splatter paint techniques, find objects from the bush to make memory boxes and learn to design calico bags with their own lino cut prints
  • Making your own instrumentals, run by Sydney Conservatorium of Music students, to assist the school students to design and produce music using traditional instruments and digital sounds
  • Piecing together the past and present, in which staff from the University’s Faculty of Science will demonstrate how radioactive carbon dating methods can be used to understand how we and our environment have changed (and how we are the same) over long time periods
  • Go! Bukulunghdun Makarrata wu’ – a conversation, in which University of Sydney Law students will facilitate an exchange of ideas around the Garma 2017 theme which translated from Yolngu Matha to English means ‘Come together! Let us settle our differences’ 
  • Poetry of Place run by Sydney Story Factory, a regular partner in delivering the University’s outreach work with school students, will invite Garma attendees to contribute to a massive collaborative poem. The poem will focus on the themes of place, what it means to individuals and how place contributes to identity and community.

Indigenous Student Leaders

Four Indigenous Student Leaders will be on hand to mentor, encourage and support the school students – alongside six Year 12 students from the Foundation for Young Australians’ Young Indigenous Leadership program IMPACT.

All now studying at Sydney, the Indigenous Student Leaders are also graduates of the University’s Wingara Mura Bunga Burrabugu Summer and Winter Programs that support the academic and personal preparation of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students for higher education.

DJ Svagelli, a Luritja woman who is in her second year of a Bachelor of Arts / Bachelor of Education, said she was excited to attend Garma and work with young people there.

I really enjoy volunteering, and this is an opportunity to do so close to country. I hope to get a bit closer to culture, away from city life – and it will be an incredible experience to share with my colleagues and these diverse young students.
DJ Svagelli, University of Sydney student

The majority of Garma Youth Forum activities are coordinated by the University of Sydney’s Widening Participation and Outreach, in collaboration with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services).