The Jarjum Project: Culture cultivates minds

When I first heard about the project, I knew I wanted to choose an organisation that catered to my interest in community and oral history. After going back and forth with ideas in my head I mentioned the project to a friend from uni. When I told him I wanted to work with an Indigenous history he said he thought Jarjum would be perfect. He had previously volunteered at the school as a teacher’s aide and talked about the kindness of the staff members and the welcoming environment. After researching more about the school I saw its value of community and cultural connection which is central to my project. Redfern stands on Gadigal land and has been home to a large population of Aboriginal people since the early 20th century.

What drew me further to the school was its main focus – providing education for Indigenous children who are struggling in a mainstream schooling environment. Jarjum is a primary school that through a value of community history, ensures Aboriginal children are able to access integral aspects of their culture from a young age. Jarjum also recognizes the importance of parent involvement, in that developing a child’s cultural conscience begins at home. There is a real need for more schools like Jarjum, particularly in regional areas as the education gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children remains where only 36% of Indigenous Year 5 students in remote areas are at or above national minimum reading standards[1]. A lack of adequate resources for teachers and Aboriginal role models in rural areas attributes to this, which is why Jarjum exceeds in its education of Indigenous children.

After getting in touch with Matthew Smith, the principal of Jarjum, I was sure I wanted to work with them for my project. I plan to conduct interviews within both the school and the wider local community and I believe that this will be done best through a visual medium. Oral histories are about listening and observing; therefore, I think that the style of my project is significant in ensuring that all aspects of history can be captured – the people who are producing it and are a product of it. I also hope that visual engagement allows students, parents, and members of the community to benefit from my project.

Although there are obvious ethical challenges I will face when undertaking this project, I believe that the proper acknowledgment of such sensitivities can help to avoid them. As a non-Indigenous person speaking with Indigenous people about their culture, I have to remain aware of the position of non-Indigenous people in the Indigenous historical narrative. I spoke with the principal of the college about my concerns, and he agreed that approaching the project as a listener and observer is crucial. I plan to conduct my interviews in a manner that focuses on the history of the school and the local Indigenous community, rather than trying to ‘understand’ or gain insight into individual histories, which can be seen as invasive and insensitive from an Indigenous perspective.  

[1] NAPLAN. 2019 . National Report for 2019. Achievement in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions and Numeracy , Sydney : ACARA.