It started as a vision among Brisbane’s Indigenous community.
Today it’s a school where students thrive.
For 30 years this year The Murri School, which is also known as The Aboriginal and Islander Independent Community School, has been providing a culturally rich education environment for Indigenous students.
Setting up the school and coming to own the land they teach on has enormous significance for the school community. It is the first school to be owned by the Aboriginal community in Brisbane.
The Prep to Year 12 school has an all-Indigenous Board, the majority of staff are Indigenous, there’s an Indigenous dance program and art plays a key role.
Principal Philomena Downey says students – including some from Hopevale, Palm Island and Cherbourg – are comfortable there and “know that this is their school”.
She says people ask her all the time how they embed Indigenous perspectives.
“It’s not something that is like an artefact that you embed – the fact that this school is owned and controlled by Indigenous people – that sets the standard,” she says.
“We don’t have to have a program to embed, it just is.”
The education facility opened 30 years ago, partly in response to the number of children not attending school at the time. Six buses now pick students up each day.
Philomena says one of the school’s unique features is that it caters for “the whole child and not just their educational needs”.
“So you might notice here that we have a clinic – a health centre – so we have a GP five days a week and an array of allied health professionals, and we have visiting specialists,” she says.
“So we have a paediatrician once a week, an ear nose and throat specialist once a month and a range of other health specialists.
“It provides an access to medical services that a lot of our children wouldn’t normally access given how difficult it is to see specialists in the public system.”
She says all of the school’s support staff, and about half of the teaching staff, are Indigenous.
“We have two teachers in most classrooms for half the day,” Philomena says, adding that they also do a lot of their own teacher training, including hiring Griffith University’s Dr Stephen Norton to design and run their mathematics program.
“I try and make sure that even our new teachers have a good, strong mentor, so I actually employ two teachers who do nothing else but assist existing teachers with their planning, with their preparation and with classroom management as well.”
While NAIDOC is an important annual school celebration, this year it is “a very significant event”.
“It will be a week-long celebration here when we return because we are also combining it with our 30th year,” Philomena says.
The school will have its first-ever NAIDOC Art show on July 14.
“It has been open to the community as well as parents and students. So the work that we already have ready to hang and to show is just – it’s mind-boggling, it’s just fantastic,” Philomena says.
The Art show, which starts at 5pm and is open to the general public, will be followed by a NAIDOC celebration day for the whole Acacia Ridge community, which will include stalls, rides and entertainment all day. Students from other schools will also attend.
“We were asked by Brisbane City Council last year to host the Acacia Ridge NAIDOC,” Philomena says.
“What I thought was fantastic was the number of Indigenous kids that attended who are in boarding schools. So, for those kids it gave them an opportunity to connect with Indigenous people while they are here, because a lot of remote kids can feel very isolated here.”