Gail Mabo visits St Francis Xavier's College

Last week, St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton, had a very special visitor to the school for NAIDOC Week, Gail Mabo.

Gail is the daughter of celebrated land rights activist, Eddie Mabo, and in 2005 she directed the stage show KOIKI, a performance based on the life of her father. She is also a dancer, actor and visual artist. 

Over 12 months ago, the College approached Gail to be the guest speaker during NAIDOC Week and with the assistance of Louise Campbell, Aboriginal Education Officer for the Catholic Schools Office, Gail extended her stay to spend valuable time with the members of the College community.

For three days, Gail engaged with the students of St Francis Xavier’s, sharing her wisdom, stories and life experiences.

“Gail’s visit has been highly significant, not just because of her father’s legacy, but because she engendered in our Aboriginal students the importance of their standing proud and connecting to their story.

“Gail engaged us in a variety of experiences from story, culture and history – her dream for a ‘non racist Australia’ is a message that we will reflect on for a long time to come,” said Assistant Principal, Patricia Hales.  

Gail’s visit was especially beneficial for Studies of Religion students who have recently studied Aboriginal spirituality, the Mabo Case and Native Title. Students were able to develop a real connection to the ‘words on the page’ as well as have the opportunity to ask questions, clarify their thinking and understand that the connection between two worlds can be made if there is a willingness to do so.

During her visit, Gail conducted a series of workshops with the students, engaging in traditional art and dance practices. She taught the students how to tell their own unique story and connect to their country through art. Students expressed their connection to community and spirituality on ten wooden crosses through painting a colourful array of Aboriginal symbols using traditional ochre paints.

A cross has been made for each Year 12 retreat site to be carried as a connection to culture, story, land and spirit. They will be a continuous reminder of what students learned during Gail’s visit and mark the interconnection between Aboriginal spirituality and the Christian story, as well as being a symbol of reconciliation.

The last day of Gail’s visit saw the school hall fill with students, staff and guests for the annual NAIDOC assembly. As the guest speaker, Gail shared a powerful message with her audience, “Mabo is a responsibility to fight for your rights, to fight for your pride that has been taken away. 25 years on, I give all of you this challenge to make Mabo a part of your life. Make the challenges to right the wrongs in whatever you do in everyday life. Take on the challenge to fight for the injustices and celebrate Mabo with me.”

Aboriginal Student Committee Leader, Lili Flook, said, “We are very proud to lead the College community in the NAIDOC celebration to showcase our Aboriginal culture and share it with the community. I feel I have found a place and connection as an Awabakal woman and feel empowered to embrace my culture as I have developed the confidence to be part of the generation of the First Australians.”

The staff of St Francis Xavier’s also indicated the huge development of pride in culture through the leadership of Frank Hales as the Aboriginal Support teacher. With the aim to embed Aboriginal culture in every aspect of school life, Mr Hales has encouraged students to build connections through religion, understanding Aboriginal spirituality, inclusion of Aboriginal song, the use of art in significant celebrations and an empowering of students to take ownership and pride through involvement in a variety of experiences.

Before Gail’s visit came to an end, she spent the afternoon with student representatives from diocesan secondary schools sharing a special afternoon tea. She also offered to return to the College in 2018 to work with students again through dance and art.

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Gabrielle Sutherland Image
Gabrielle Sutherland

Gabrielle Sutherland is a Marketing & Communications Officer for the Catholic Schools Office and a regular contributor to and Aurora.