By Angela Matheson
SYDNEY — Australia's first Aboriginal high school, Pemulwuy Koori College, was officially opened on February 27. The landmark occasion was celebrated by a crowd of over 500 people cheered and embraced as the Aboriginal flag was raised.
Pemulwuy College, located in Newtown, is named after the Aboriginal resistance leader who fought the British invasion.
Set up to provide an alternative education, Pemulwuy intends to develop Aboriginal ideas and philosophy as the core of the school curriculum. It is regarded by the Aboriginal community as a milestone in contemporary Australian education.
Pemulwuy is an independent junior and senior coeducational college
which incorporates all core subjects of the HSC curriculum.
The college is a significant step toward the development of real multicultural education. It aims to bring together students from different racial and cultural backgrounds to develop racial tolerance and cultural interchange.
The visionary project has been fought for by Aboriginal people who have suffered institutional racism within Australia's European-based education system. Margret Campbell, a member of the Pemulwuy College Interim Committee says, "It should not be forgotten that the education system in this country was founded on the racist concept of terra nullius, the denial of even the existence of the indigenous people. Our people have had to sit in classrooms being told Australia's history started when Cook sailed into Botany Bay."
Vilma Ryan, also a member of the college committee, believes that the future for the Aboriginal people lies in providing an education which democratically integrates the ideas of students, staff and the community. "Instead of dictating white man's lies and calling us slow learners when we can't stomach it, this college will respect many points of view and encourage input from the whole community. We want the kids to learn that they matter, and that they belong to a community which supports them", she said.
Pemulwuy College has been 10 years in the making. The idea was pursued in earnest after 1988, when 100 Aboriginal students walked out of the Cleveland St school in protest against racist treatment.
In 1988 the Hughes Report described Aboriginal education in Australia as a "national disgrace". Only 21% of Koori students reach year 12, compared to the mainstream retention rate of 60 %.
Pemulwuy plans to raise $6.6 million this year to accommodate up to 1000 students at a larger school in Maroubra. Pemulwuy currently has 50 enrolled students.