Uncle Simon Forrest is a proud Nyungar Wadjuk man with an established career in the public sector. He has held senior managerial positions in education and Indigenous affairs policy and implementation, as well as being a previous elder in residence at Curtin University. He is Western Australia’s most established Aboriginal academic, having taught undergraduate and postgraduate students since 1983. Uncle Simon is also primary teaching-trained and passionate about education for our First Nations Young People.
We invited Uncle Simon to be part of a conversation about this year’s National Reconciliation Week (NRW) theme, “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action.” He joined TFA Alumna Grace Skehan and TFA Associate Charlotte Geer on the panel and the conversation was moderated by our CEO, Melodie Potts Rosevear.
This year’s NAIDOC week theme “ Heal Country” calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. At TFA, this week we are reflecting on what Uncle Simon Forrest shared with us about the importance of teaching on Country.
While the conversation reflected the long way we have to go towards Reconciliation in the education space, Uncle Simon argued that teachers are uniquely positioned to make a difference right now, by incorporating Country into their students’ education. “At a local level,” he says, “if you’re willing to do it, and you’re brave enough, you can do lots of little things that are valuable to the kids in the community that you’re in.”
As a primary school teacher working in schools in Aboriginal communities and rural towns, Uncle Simon reflected that, “I wanted to be in the bush as much as them, and not be in the four walls of a classroom!”
“When it was a nice sunny day in the desert, we would go down the bush. I would learn stuff from the students about language and their world view about how they see their place. It also allowed me to teach and to contextualise their learning from their experience, their lived experience and their knowledge of the land, and I used that to teach these foreign concepts that I have to teach them in school.”
Today, Uncle Simon runs a unique education initiative in WA’s Noongar bushland with Curtin University, where students can learn about Noongar culture, language and history while on Country.
“As an educator, what I’ve been doing over the last five or six years at Curtin, is taking non-Indigenous and some Indigenous people out to Country. We spend a week there, and students are transformed. It has been the most influential, rewarding education experience I’ve ever been involved with.”
“It’s not content-based. What you learn about us at university is content-based. That’s not how you learn about Aboriginal society and culture. You might learn some content—some facts—but understanding our ways of thinking, doing, being and knowing is best done in the bush through an immersive experience. You can see it, sitting around the fire on the last night and reflecting on the week’s experiences; you can feel how the students have changed. I never planned it to be like this, but they come away transformed.”
Sunday is the last week of NAIDOC week and there are many celebratory events happening around the country. Here are our top picks:
o Saturday 10 June, 9:00am-2:00pm, Balyang Sanctuary, Newtown
o Sunday 11 July, 11:00am – 12:00 pm, Readings, St Kilda
o Sunday 11 July, 2:00pm – 4:30pm, MAAMBA Reserve, Forrestfield
o Sunday 11 July, 11:00am – 2:00pm, Yanchep
o Wednesday 14 July, 7:00pm – 8:00pm, Online
o Friday 9 July, 7:00pm – 9:00pm, Eliza Hall, Prospect
o Sunday 11 July, 9:15am – 3:15pm, Nudgee
You can find the full list of events here.
Photo by Jeanette Mcmahon