Building upon initiatives previously conducted by the Australian Museum’s (AM) Pasifika staff and youth workers in 2009 and the ‘Pacific Youth Reconnection Project’ facilitated by Thelma Thomas in 2012-2015, the current AM Pasifika team have re-trialed this project to evaluate how we can develop and expand these cultural workshops for Pasifika youth today. In the past, this project aimed at addressing the over-representation of the Australian-Pasifika diaspora in the NSW juvenile justice system, through initiatives which connect Pasifika people and communities to the Pacific Collections.

During April-July the AM’s Pasifika staff members, youth workers and cultural arts mentors facilitated the Youth Reconnection Project with Pacific Islander students from Miller Technology High School, Burwood Girls High School and Sydney Tongan Church Youth.

A central mission of AM’s Pasifika team is to meaningfully connect Pasifika youth in Sydney with their cultural heritage through the AM’s Pacific Collection.

Our Pacific Collection holds over 65,000 artefacts, representing living cultures through artworks, cultural technologies and archaeological materials. These artefacts teach us important cultural knowledges, histories, spiritualities, customs, arts, craftsmanship, sciences and much more. Many of these artefacts continue to be used and made, while others are trying to be revived.

Cultural Collections Centre opening 30 July 2019
The Cultural Collections Centre opens in Rydalmere with a performance by the Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts group. The centre houses the bulk of the East and West Pacific collections with large facilities for community outreach and engagement. Image: Abram Powell
© Australian Museum

Our re-trialed Youth Reconnection Project aims to maintain the collections vitality to contemporary Pasifika communities, grow community engagement, and promote self-awareness of Pasifika youth participants. We are developing and expanding these cultural workshops to ensure that they are educational, meaningful, engaging and empowering.

Our workshops started with themes around culture and identity, reflection around the artefacts, then moved on to the development of the students artistic and cultural expressions. Some also had the opportunity to tour around the AM’s Pacific Collection. There were great stories, insights and perspectives shared by the students during the tours.

Another major goal of this project was to provide a platform for Pasifika youth to showcase their artistic works such as dance, design and music at “Wan Sol Moana” Night on the 25th of June 2022.

Three main themes explored in the Youth Reconnection Project were Tapa Designing, Pacific Island Dance and Music.

Guided by Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts Directors Maryjane and Fred Schwenke, Pasifika students at Miller Technology High School were immersed in Samoan cultural arts. Their 6 week project involved over 40 students being immersed in choreography, art, cultural knowledge and identity empowerment. Some participants shared:

I felt empowered from the dance workshops as we got to learn more about who we are and where we come from. Miller Technology High School Participant

I feel more proud to be a Pacific Islander, and am passionate to learn more about the Pacific and the history. Miller Technology High School Participant

Burwood Girls High School were led on a tour through the Pacific Collections by the AM’s Pasifika staff and youth worker Thelma Thomas, and were also given design tips from fashion designers such as Bayvick Lawrence. Our AM Pasifika staff member Moemoana facilitated a workshop at Burwood Girls High School with 15 students who worked towards the main goal of designing a dress from natural resources such as tapa cloth and coconut sennit.

All three groups showcased their cultural and artistic expressions on “Wan Sol Moana” Night. Check out some photos from the night:

We were deeply proud of the Pasifika youth who participated in the Youth Reconnection Project. Throughout the workshops they grew in cultural pride and cultural awareness — and they participated in each workshop with passion, commitment, dedication and cultural values such as love, respect and service.

We look forward to growing our relationships with Pasifika youth in Sydney and connecting them with the AM’s Pacific Collection. We have big plans for Youth Reconnection Project moving into the future. Ensuring that we are encouraging the passing down of cultural knowledge, and opening pathways for youth is central to the Pilot Youth Reconnection Project.