Eidsvold State School, located in a small family-oriented community within the North Burnett region of Queensland, has developed a unique language program that has everyone in the school engaged with their local community and learning the local Aboriginal language, Wakka.
In 2019, the school’s language program was a state finalist for the Queensland Teachers' Union Showcase Award for Excellence Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education.
This language program has helped the school build a strong relationship with members of its local community, while also enhancing student wellbeing and learning experiences. It has allowed Aboriginal community members and elder groups the opportunity to offer their unique knowledge, expertise and perspectives to students and staff.
Ngara Yumbin – hello everyone
Eidsvold’s language teacher, Lachlan Mackenzie, has been helping deliver the Eidsvold Wakka Wakka language reclamation program together with a small working group of 5 other staff members.
'We have a program here called Yumbin, which is the Wakka Wakka word for everyone, where we run a 15-minute block with students each morning and rotate through different activities that teach students self-regulation, resilience and trust. The focus is on the health and wellbeing of our students and we slowly began implementing Wakka Wakka language into the Yumbin framework with great success,' Lachlan said.
'Seeing Indigenous and non-Indigenous students all speaking, singing, dancing and laughing together while learning Wakka Wakka language and culture has been amazing!'
Working in partnership with the Wakka Wakka people
Doris Beezley, known as Aunty Doris, from the Eidsvold Wakka Wakka group has been involved in the consultation process from the start.
'I work in admin for the school and my role has been making sure that we stick to cultural protocols and relaying information about the program between the community and school,' Aunty Doris said.
'When we first started there was a lot of consultation between our language team, the P&C and the community to ensure all parties involved could understand how the program would operate, but the most important discussion we had was around the cultural protocols.'
Lachlan and his team have valued the expertise that Aunty Doris has been able to provide because she has ensured everything they do follows the correct cultural protocols that respect the way the Wakka Wakka language should be taught.
'We can get carried away trying to implement new things but our way of teaching isn’t something new. Wakka Wakka language has been in the community for a really long time and the knowledge of their culture and people can’t be taught like more traditional language programs. It needs to come from the community and only if they are willing to share,' Lachlan said.
The program is now delivered as a full, Australian Curriculum aligned languages subject across the school.
Professional development and gaining respect
Teaching an Aboriginal language to students was completely new for Lachlan but his school was able to provide him and other staff members with the support and training they needed to deliver curriculum outside of their expertise.
'Eidsvold has been really amazing in sending me away to different professional development opportunities and upskilling me into a field I didn’t have experience in before,' Lachlan said.
'Out here, there is much more of an onus on respect and that carries through into the language room and into my regular classes. I have learnt how to manage a classroom and teach children in a way that’s respectful to all of them.
'Going rural or remote can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can do as a beginning teacher because you don’t get the same experiences you would in larger schools that you get in a small school. You learn how to teach from really good country kids.'
How Eidsvold reclaimed its local Indigenous language
After several years of planning and consultation with Traditional Owner groups, the Wakka Wakka Corporation and the community, Eidsvold State School encourages all students and staff to speak to each other in Wakka Wakka using short phrases.
As Lachlan has now moved on from Eidsvold school, we have welcomed Preston Parter into this role. Preston and his team have continued to collaborate with other schools to support them as they start their own Aboriginal language program within their schools.
The most important thing that both Lachlan and Aunty Doris have learned is that the success of this program was only made possible by gaining support from the elders, staff and community and making sure everyone involved was aware of the cultural protocols.
'This has changed our school in so many ways, but one thing that people need to keep in mind if they want start an Indigenous language program is that all groups involved need to be on the same page. The initial steps are going to be difficult, but it’s amazing once it gets rolling,' Lachlan said.