Canadian teacher Tom Worthy, on exchange to St Mary’s Campus Maitland, reports on his Thursday Island Immersion Trip experience.
One of the pieces of advice given at our orientation before beginning our exchange was to ‘say yes to everything’. When I arrived for my staff orientation at St Mary’s, this was reinforced by the themed message for the year, in keeping with the Dominican mission of Stepping Out. By stepping out we would not only expand our personal and professional growth, but also find a way to be of service to the larger world community. Needless to say, when offered the opportunity to travel with Year 11 students on an immersion experience to Thursday Island in Torres Strait, I ‘stepped up’!
Immersion experiences with Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples has been an integral part of programs offered at St Mary’s for some years. However, this was the first time it had been organised on Thursday Island, with Our Lady of Sacred Heart School.
The purpose was to expose the students to a meaningful immersion experience in a remote community and find ways to be of service while gaining confidence in new and unusual circumstances. Every student was able to examine their personal strengths and areas for improvement while working with indigenous and transient residents from every part of the world, as the island serves as a hub for cultural preservation, health and commerce for the region.
We integrated with the local school community to assist with their athletics carnival, a community day geared to the interests of children under eight years of age. We were able join in meaningful school activities both at Thursday Island and at the sister campus on Hammond Island. Hammond Island was a real highlight for our students, as it required special permission from the Council to visit and engage in traditional Torres Strait songs and dances, led by elders and teachers. Our students were made to feel welcome by the students, staff and residents while making contributions of their own to the school.
Principal Sharon County ensured we had access to and support for all of our needs during our stay and enriched our visit with museum and cultural exhibits.
We punctuated our time away with a visit to Friday Island, which hosts a long standing pearl farm, rich in Japanese tradition and historical significance. Our travels home through Cairns afforded us the additional opportunity of visiting the cultural centre, which gave us additional insights into yet another indigenous set of traditions and cultural practices.
Indeed we ‘stepped out’, allowing us to enjoy a rich and rewarding experience. I was so proud of how the students met the challenge and represented themselves and St Mary’s!