Gawura! Our Response to a Need in Indigenous Education

“How can we as a school and as a community, stand with hands in pocket and wait for  governments to act when the original people of our land continue to be the most  disadvantaged people in our country?”  Phillip Heath, former Head of St Andrew’s Cathedral School, on the occasion of the formal opening of Gawura at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, November 2007.

Responding to a Need

The formation of Gawura in 2007 occurred in response to the overwhelming evidence of underachievement and social disadvantage among people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. As a day school in the Sydney city centre, St Andrew’s Cathedral School regards its best contribution to this challenge is to offer educational opportunities in a culturally enriching environment to the children of Indigenous people who live in the neighbouring suburbs of Redfern, Woolloomoolloo, Waterloo and Glebe where there is a considerable concentration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The model demonstrates a sound application of national strategies that echo throughout Australian education systems. The document, “Whale inside a School” outlines the history of Gawura in more detail. Now in its sixth year, the School continues to be a resounding success.

The Name Gawura

Gawura (pronounced ga-war-ah) is a word from the local Indigenous language spoken in this area of Sydney at the time of the first European settlement meaning “whale”.  The word refers to the creature which is a totem of the Sydney region and has connotations in the Old Testament as the means by which God saved a nation.

Literacy and Numeracy attainment

The mandate for Gawura is to focus on literacy and numeracy attainment such that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students achieve at a level at least commensurate with the all school average of St Andrew’s Cathedral School. The pre-eminence of Indigenous cultures and the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities in a nurturing environment provided the essential backdrop against which this academic achievement was to take place. Strong processes of consultation with Gawura families from the outset were intended to preserve a sense of Indigenous community engagement with the education being provided. Students were also afforded access to all of the teaching and learning resources of St Andrew’s Cathedral School, as well as allowing the students and their families to be part of a greater school community.

National Goals for Indigenous Education

The remarkable, even spectacular evidence of progress made by Gawura students suggests that one or more of these elements contribute to positive educational outcomes for urban Indigenous children. The steady and systematic approach to literacy and numeracy acquisition strategies, coupled with high levels of parent and community involvement provide a strong partnership that meets many of the National Goals for Indigenous Education.

St Andrew’s Cathedral School Community

The positive regard of the St Andrew’s Cathedral School community has been an important feature and, provides a microcosm for a genuine and profound experience of reconciliation between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians. The passionate financial commitment of so many people, true Friends of Gawura that are largely unconnected with the School has been integral to the formation of Gawura and will remain so in the future.



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