Aboriginal culture at Katoomba High School

On with the show: Two young dancers wait to perform at the opening of Birriban.

On with the show: Two young dancers wait to perform at the opening of Birriban.

It was once an overgrown patch of unused land; now it’s Birriban, Katoomba High School’s own Aboriginal space, where students learn how to care for country, about Indigenous practices and how to walk gently on the earth.

Embracing the smoke: Aboriginal elders are cleansed in a smoking ceremony on their way into Birriban at Katoomba High School.

Embracing the smoke: Aboriginal elders are cleansed in a smoking ceremony on their way into Birriban at Katoomba High School.

Birriban – a Gundungurra word meaning emu – is a two-hectare plot adjoining the school.

Over the past two years, the students, helped by local elders and others, have helped clear up the site, removing rubbish and weeds and restoring some of the native bush.

It was officially opened earlier this month, with principal Jenny Boyall saying it “represents how we embed Aboriginal culture into everything we do”.

Aboriginal education officer at the school, Gary Rule, called Birriban “a spirit, a place, a way of doing things”.

He said classes across a range of subjects are held there, including maths, science, art and English.

“The quality of work that we get from the students – I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, describing his amazement at seeing 15-year-old boys writing poetry among the gum trees.

Art teacher, Michelle Paulley, said she had brought students to the site and they had used only materials they could find there to create wonderful sculptures.

Indigenous students spoke of feeling connected to country at Birriban and non-Indigenous students said they appreciated learning more about Aboriginal culture and customs.

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