Instant connection at Macleay Museum

4 September 2012

Last week, students from one of Compass partner schools, Athelstane Public School, had a rare opportunity: they 'met' students from one of the most northern schools in Australia, Mer Eruer Uter, the Murray Island campus of the Torres Strait's Tagai College. The meeting was virtual, taking place over Skype, but Macleay Museum curator Jude Philp facilitated a very real conversation about languages, school gardens, and the best weekend activities.

The conversation was part of the Macleay Museum exhibition Coral: Art Science Life, which includes nine paintings made by school children at Mer in 2011 especially for the show. Philp said the aim of the exhibition was to provoke thought and discussion about the different ways that people interact with one of Australia's greatest assets, the Great Barrier Reef. While here in Sydney we may be concerned with the health of the Great Barrier Reef, and spend enormous resources working on climate and pollution problems, in the Torres Strait the reefs have a more integral presence, sustaining the cultural and physical life of the 18 inhabited islands across the region.

The two schools quickly established commonalities and differences. Students from the Mer Island were very surprised when they discovered the number of students studying at Athelstane PS, which has 350 students in comparison to their 90. They were also curious about the hijab, or headscarf, that some of the girls wore. Students from Athelstane PS were very interested with find out on how foods are transported to the Mer Island and learned a few Torres Strait creole words. They also listened very carefully to a heroic story of a student who saved his brother from a shark attack just a few weeks ago. Athelstane students particularly enjoyed the cultural exchange, as well as the exposure to the University campus:

  • "It was a fun and memorable experience. It was great to see the different life that people live in the Torres Strait." Zeinab - Year 5
  • "I learnt about the life of a different community on Murray Island." Hussein - Year 4
  • "It was great opportunity to see what wonderful things were available at the university." Zeinab - Year 4

At the end of the session, teachers from both schools exchanged contacts and decided to keep in touch in the future for another connection.

Compass is very privileged to be part of the initiative and would like to thank Macleay Museum and Athelstane PS for their participation.

Coral: Art Science Life closes on 12 September.