Worawa Term 1 Newsletter 2017

Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture

A historic lecture commemorating the work of Aboriginal Visionary and Worawa Aboriginal College Founder, Hyllus Maris was relaunched at La Trobe University to coincide with International Women’s Day on Wednesday, 8 March. The Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture was initially established in 1999 in honour of the Yorta Yorta woman, writer and poet, whose achievements in education include the establishment in 1983 of Victoria’s first and only Aboriginal school, Worawa Aboriginal College.

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All of the students were privileged to be involved in two sessions of workshops with Tony, being inspired by his humour, creativity and passion for owning and telling your own stories. He delivered a very strong message about the power of storytelling, in any form, for keeping your own identity and your culture strong.

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We are very lucky to have Jess Gannaway, our EAL/D specialist, working with all the girls to gather new and detailed data about reading, writing and comprehension levels. This means that we have been able to continue to tailor class and individual tasks for improved progress in all areas. Murnong girls (Green group) have focussed on reading skills and work together each week to compose letters to send home.

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Sustainability at Worawa

Worawa is commencing its journey towards officially becoming a ResourceSmart School. This program in Victoria allows schools to focus on 5 modules surrounding Energy, Water, Waste and Biodiversity.

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National Indigenous Training Academy and Uluru

On the 23rh of March this year 6 students and 2 staff made the journey from Healesville to Voyagers Ayers Rock Resort at Yulara in the Northern Territory to experience the amazing facilities, programs and staff at the National Indigenous Training Academy (NITA).

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Performing Arts

The students in the Performing Arts Academy, along with other talented and dedicated students throughout the school, have had a number of wonderful opportunities during Term 1.

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Download term 1 newsletter 2017

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Hyllus Maris – A Visionary With A Passion For Education

Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture

Learn more about this event here at 50 Years Latrobe.

Hyllus Maris (1934-1986) was many things: activist, artist, cultural leader and philosopher. Above all, she was a visionary, who used her many talents to stand up for what she believed in. Her success in establishing Victoria’s first and only Aboriginal school challenged the education status quo and has been unlocking young people’s potential ever since.

Born on Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve in 1934, Hyllus was the third of nine children. Her mother, Geraldine Briggs, née Clements, was a Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri woman and her father, Selwyn Briggs, a Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta man. Hyllus and her siblings inherited a profound sense of social justice from their parents, both of whom were prominent Aboriginal rights activists.

Hyllus lived at Cummeragunja until she was five years old. In 1939, her family were among 200 people to walk off the reserve in protest over its management. Afterwards they lived on the outskirts of Mooroopna, in a makeshift settlement known as the Flats. Its residents were excluded and stigmatised by mainstream society because of their Aboriginality. In later years, Hyllus often drew on her experience growing up as an outsider.

Much of Hyllus’ knowledge about her cultural heritage, genealogy and history came through her mother and from her grandmother, Theresa Clements – traditional name Yarmuk. Her grandmother instilled in Hyllus great pride in her Aboriginal heritage. Hyllus attended school in Mooroopna and then Shepparton. Many who grew up on the Flats remember Hyllus as their protector, a compassionate girl unafraid to confront the perpetrators of discrimination.

From a young age, Hyllus was an artistic soul and a talented musician. She played guitar and sang at local venues in and around Shepparton. Hyllus trained and worked as a hospital dietician. In 1956, she married a Malaysian geologist and adopted the surname Maris. She took a keen interest in Aboriginal affairs and supported her parents’ fight against inequality, becoming a member of the Aborigines Advancement League and attending meetings of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI).

In 1970, Hyllus relocated to Melbourne, where she became a well-known activist and public speaker. She was a founding member and liaison officer for the National Council of Aboriginal and Islander Women, working alongside her sisters and mother, who was the council’s driving force. Where services for the Aboriginal community had been neglected, the women worked to fill the void.

The various acts of community service Hyllus undertook included visits to incarcerated Aboriginal people, for whom she would organise bail and represent at court hearings. Subsequently, Hyllus helped set up the Aboriginal Legal Service in 1973, as well as the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and similar services in Queensland. Later, Hyllus chaired the Victorian Council for Aboriginal Culture, which organised some of the earliest Aboriginal art exhibitions in the state.

In 1977, Hyllus received a scholarship from the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs to study social policy and community development in London with the prominent sociologist, Sir Richard Hauser. It was the first of a number of study trips abroad that included cultural exchanges with First Nation peoples of North America. During her travels, an idea began to develop in Hyllus’ mind.

Hyllus returned to Australia convinced of the need for a holistic approach to Aboriginal education. She was determined to build a school that would focus on three key areas — education, culture and wellbeing — and established the not-for-profit Green Hills Foundation to raise funds. Intense lobbying by Hyllus and others secured a grant from the Victorian Schools Commission, to purchase land near Diamond Creek. A pilot project was then conducted. Shortly after, the first independent Aboriginal school in Victoria opened its doors.

Worawa Aboriginal College officially opened in 1983. ‘Worawa’ is an Aboriginal word for eagle. The name was agreed upon by the Aboriginal Elders who worked with Hyllus on the cultural content of the college’s program, the eagle being of great significance in Aboriginal culture and a symbol of the tremendous potential Hyllus saw in Aboriginal children. Extensive consultation went into developing a curriculum that balanced Aboriginal culture with the very best of western education.  Initially co-ed, the first students were from families who supported the concept of an all Aboriginal student and who had the confidence to place their children under Hyllus’ care.

Today, Worawa is situated in beautiful grounds outside Healesville. It remains Australia’s only boarding school for Aboriginal girls, catering for the middle years of schooling (years 7–10). Students come from across Australia and collectively speak more than 30 traditional languages. The school continues to develop high achievers and its ongoing success is a proud testament to Hyllus and her vision.

Artistically, Hyllus’ legacy is equally significant. She was a playwright and a gifted poet – her poem, Spiritual Song of the Aborigine, is considered an anthem for her people. Hyllus also collaborated to write and produce a four-part television series Women of the Sun, broadcast on SBS television. It documented the Cummeragunja walk-off and the experiences of Aboriginal women across two hundred years of colonisation.

First broadcast in 1982, Women of the Sun won several awards including the United Nations Media Peace Prize; the main drama award at the Banff Television Festival in Canada; two Australian Writers’ Guild awards and five Television Society of Australia awards. The script was published in 1983, followed by a novel in 1985. Hyllus was appointed as the inaugural chair of the Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee.

Hyllus passed away in 1986 after a battle with cancer. The illness had done little to diminish her commitment to the Aboriginal community and she remained active until the end of her life.

In 1999, an annual memorial lecture was established at La Trobe University in honour of her contribution to Aboriginal education. Today, Maris House at Melbourne Girls’ College sits as a tribute to its namesake. Hyllus was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001.

Aunty Hyllus believed the future to be in the hands of the young. Thanks to her efforts, many Aboriginal children today are growing up with the opportunity to make a difference, just as she did.
Last updated on Monday, 23 December 2013

Copyright – 2014 Dept. of Premier and Cabinet