The Primary School finalist artworks included in this year’s Schools Reconciliation Challenge exhibition, showcase students’ visions for reconciliation in Australia. By engaging with the 2023 theme ‘What Stories Will You Dream?’, schools and students acknowledged the many stories that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures and histories and endeavoured to explore what stories we leave behind for generations to come.

Top image credit: Yuwaya Wiina-li © Finley Andrews. John Palmer Public School.

Primary School artwork finalists

Primary School writing finalists

I walked through the forest, absorbing the various sounds of the wildlife. The loud cackle of birds in the canopy. The gentle sound of the leaves swishing side-to-side to the whims of the wind. The soft gurgle of rushing water, flowing from the peaks of the mountains to the distant sea. Though it was obscured by the trees, I could still see the sun, high in the sky, its heat somewhat stifled by the plentiful shade surrounding me. In the corner of my eye, I spotted a bright twinkle. Curious, I began running towards it, to see what it was. The dry sticks and leaves on the floor crunched under my feet as I ran, a reminder of the early Autumn. Eventually, I reached the source of the light. A tall waterfall led into a modestly sized lake roughly a metre deep. The sun shone on the waterfall, creating myriads of diverse colours, like a painter with the rushing water as their canvas. I slowly waded into the water, towards the waterfall, each step submerging myself deeper into the water. By the time I reached it, I was submerged up to my waist, though the water didn’t bother me. I slowly reached a hand to the waterfall. The stone behind it was smooth and unyielding, contrasting starkly with the rough tumble of water. Though both seemed opposites, in a strange way they felt intensely connected, the stone given its shape by the water, the water its path by the stone. The sun now shone upon my back, warming me, a perfect counterbalance to the coolness of the water. I smelled the strong scent of eucalyptus leaves from the trees on the shoreline and heard the birds chirping in the sky. All of them were connected, an intricate web of life supporting life. There was something here, in this secluded place. A lesson to be learned. I closed my eyes…

Something changed. I could feel the nature around me, the plants and the animals. My sense slowly expanded and with each passing second my understanding of the world around me grew. Suddenly, an overwhelming sense hit me, one that felt both familiar and entirely alien. Humanity. I could feel its spirit, the turmoil, the order, the happiness, and the pain. Pain. I could feel it, the scars of past atrocities, staining the very soul of it. Yet many still went about their business, turning a blind eye to the injustice around them. I felt people, lives defined by hardship and oppression, for whom the wrongs of the past had never stopped. I knew in my bones that this had to stop. The truth had to be told. The wounds had to be cared for. The mistakes must be acknowledged and accounted for to stop the pain. The land around me should be cared for and preserved, lest its natural beauty and generous gifts be lost forever to greed. My eyes opened and the sense receded. I knew what I had to do.

Author: Thomas Lovatt
School: International Grammar School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: A secluded place - I have tried to incorporate many themes related to reconciliation into this story, whilst also keeping it a bit anonymous, though I feel all of its morals are very important to the theme of reconciliation. A lot of the first part of this piece is about how trust and cooperation benefit everybody, as shown by how the various parts of nature support each other. The second paragraph briefly reflects some of the themes in the first part, though is largely about closing the gap and truth-telling. The disadvantaged people in that paragraph are meant to represent First Nations peoples yet can be applied to many other disadvantaged minorities. Though they aren’t greatly personified, the sun, the waterfall and the stone all have a bit of a personality and do drive the story, with the sun shining on the waterfall to show the main character to it and the waterfall (and the stone) helping to teach the main character their lesson. I also tried to incorporate the message of caring for the Country and giving back in the second paragraph though less strongly than the other themes.

My pillow slowly shapes into a cloud as I drift off into the world of dreams, my thoughts droopily disappearing from my mind. The dark of closed eyelids morph into a deep blue sky, casting the world beneath it in a soothing shade of cyan. But the sky beckons me, telling me to explore further. Its pull is strange – a powerful force that can’t be resisted. My legs start to move, rapidly picking up pace. Soon hills, mountains and deserts fly behind me, gone as quickly as they come.

As my legs come to a halt, I notice a familiar meadow up ahead. It ropes me in, begging for me to come. My body propels itself forward, forcing my legs to continue running, until finally collapsing onto the bed of grass, smothering the ecosystem for as far as the eye can see. Sighing, I glance up at the sky; it’s an orange hue now, with swirling clouds spotting its surface.

I turn my attention to the grass – it feels smooth beneath my palms and as I snake my hands through the spuds, I feel a soft lump hidden between the crevices. I instantly recoiled my hand, fearing that I had just touched some sort of unknown animal. A wild cat maybe? But instead of a tail and whiskers, I see two round eyes looking back at me. Eyes of a girl, who I presume to be about my age. Her hair is long and dark, and her skin is a dark chestnut. She smiles, and I smile back.

“Hi!” I say cheerfully, attempting an introduction. She simply continues to smile, her eyes twinkling in the afternoon sunlight. “Budyeri kamaru!” She replies after what feels like a millennium. I don’t know what that means, so I just smile and nod up to the sky, still mesmerised by its impenetrable glare. She turns her gaze upward too, watching the clouds turn a slight silver, forming odd shapes in the flamingo-pink sky. We lie side-by-side, letting the beauty of the clouds and sky wash over our beings.

After a while, I can feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn my head to see the girl with a stick in hand. She giggles and slowly draws out a picture of a man and a woman in the dirt, with Toonku and Ngyardi over their heads. Noticing that I still don’t get it, she points up at the sky, then at the drawing. I smile and say, “so they came from there?” Noticing that she doesn’t understand, I just nod my head to communicate my understanding. She grins and continues sharing her stories for hours, not limited to her voice, but liberated by her drawings. I share my stories too – ones of the sky and its limitless bounds. But soon, we both get tired and instead simply stare up at the sky, its trance connecting us. The quiet is peaceful, flowing through the grass, floating up the tree trunks and finally drifting off into the sky.

For a while we simply lie under the comforting glow of the sky and clouds, basking in the cool relief of sunset, until soon the clouds part for the moon, turning the sky a murky blue. But in a flash the sky warps from blue to a deep black, swiftly coating the whole meadow and my friend. Then my eyes opened, and I was greeted with the morning sunlight. As I pulled off my sheets, my expression turned sour. Who was that girl? This thought nagged at the back of my mind all the way to the kitchen, where I noticed that Mum wasn’t home. Shrugging, I opened the fridge and got out some yoghurt, but just as I was about to put it in a bowl, I caught sight of a girl holding moving boxes outside my window…

Author: Milly McKendry
School: International Grammar School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: For me, reconciliation is all about mutual respect and camaraderie. My story demonstrates that even two people from different backgrounds, who have never met before and don’t even speak the same language, can still reach reconciliation through working around barriers such as communication. This, I believe, is when you know you have successfully reached reconciliation: when you are able to find ways around problems together and with each party’s best interest in mind.

Long, long ago, two tribes made their homes not far from a river. But the riverbed was almost completely dry. The dusty earth had cracks in it that were so deep. The tribe from the East and the tribe from the South fought over the land near the river. They would meet at the river every day at sunset when the sky would fill with an array of colour. Every day at sunset, the tribes would fight and argue. Fight and argue.

‘Yiili, Yiili ngaya ginyi’ Angry, I got angry, the tribes would shout. Words like spears were flung out at each other.

The fighting continued day after day, week after week. The fury between the tribes was rapidly growing stronger and stronger. The Eastern tribe made a plan to stop this once and for all. They were going to spear the other tribe with the sharpest spears. But the Southern tribe also had a plan. They were going to hide in the bushes and target their enemies with the biggest boomerangs. All the men were prepared.

The Eastern tribe waited, their hearts pounding. The sun had almost disappeared. The Southern tribe remained hidden from sight. When the time was right, they sprung out and charged towards the Eastern tribe. The Southern tribe used their spears and blood drenched the ground. There was silence. Only a tiny sound was heard. ‘Squeak’. They had hit a baby dhinawan, emu. ‘Gamil, gagil, gagil’! No, no good, shouted the men. Regret filled the air and tears flooded the men’s eyes.

The tribes ran back to their camps to tell the women. ‘Gamil maaru’ badly, carelessly, screamed the women. Clouds covered the moonlight, and the wind began to stir. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The earth was furious. ‘Baawaa, Gunii, Baagii’ Sister, Mother, Grandmother. ‘Come here,’ the women cried, as the storm was building.

There was only one thing to do. Both tribes went back to the river at dawn. They gathered at the meeting place and paid their respects to the dhinawan. The men gathered and the women held hands. They wanted to stick together, they wanted to help. The two tribes stood with eyes closed. BOOM! The earth shook beneath their feet. The men and women opened their eyes. The dried up river was now filled with crystal clear waters and the grass was green and lush. The smell of wildflowers filled the air.

The storm had cleared. But the baby dhinawan had disappeared. The two tribes were in shock. A woman huddled with everyone and spoke, with a wise, firm voice, “We must share this land near the river, our tribes must unite. Look what we have done, we have killed a dhinawan, a future generation. We must never make this mistake again.

“We must look past our differences and rejoice for we only have each other.” Everyone agreed and the two tribes then lived together in harmony.

Author: Emily Smith Colgan
School: Walhallow Public School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: My story is about the importance of coming together to unite. When we do not work together, mayhem starts to grow. The two tribes in my story, represent our differences and the tribes learnt that we must appreciate and show understanding of our differences. The only way to true reconciliation is through healing, to help each other and work together by bringing brilliant ideas together. In my story I incorporated my home river, the Mooki, and the traditional language of the land I live on, Gamilaraay language. I used the words I learnt at school. My story aims to teach how we should all work together and have peace and reconciliation.

The dreamer dreams of hope.
As odd as it is;
A hand to hold,
Is now not so far away.
So the flame of the hearth,
Once embers,
May blaze again someday,
Sharing songs with a stranger.
So they breathe with the heart,
With those all around,
Oh such a gorgeous song.

Joined hands breathe in sync.
They always have,
Tucked away behind the tree,
Walking at sunset along the beach.
Thousands more breathe with them,
But in their bed it’s just them three.

Coffee toned hands,
Marred with the cards Life has dealt.
Unforgivable to a cruel ‘ruler’.
So chocolate fingers clasp them tight,
Pulling them into the spell.

Small fingers grip calloused ones,
The wreck lays far behind.
The path is long,
But they will trek it.
Who knows? There may be a sweeter tale ahead.
No matter if they keep doubling back,
They can sing to pass the time.

A screeching song,
Like nails scraped on the rusty roof.
The walls crumble,
Breaths uneven,
The rattle of old wheels.
The gates swing shut.

The golden glow of sun,
Breathing slowly in sync.
Nurse each other's wounds,
And they begin again.
The last few years of sunrise,
The youth who hopes for more.
They know medicine does not cause miracle,
Yet they still breathe,
Their heart still beats to the song.
They have lived Here,
They have loved Here,
To them,
That is enough.

Why shouldn’t we dance to the song of Life?
Why shouldn’t we strive to make it okay? The lyrebirds are singing.
The sun rises over Country.
The wombats waddle home,
The kangaroos follow suit.
These scars should be slowly fading,
This hurt is ours to mend.
So let’s dance to the heartsong.
Let’s breathe with the home,
So wonderfully alive.
So wonderfully here.

Find the past,
Find it full of sorrow.
Find it full of joy.
Find it full of a home ripped away.
Seek it out.
However you may.

Stories kept to the chest,
Aren’t they better told?
So come on,
Breathe with me.
The heart beats.
The dead rest.
Time moves,
Become familiar with the eternal.
Mourn the past.
Know the now.
Allow the hope.
Allow the sorrow.
This is the sunrise.
This is their dawn.
This is our new vow.
So come now,
Why not dance to the harmony of home?

Authors: Lily Dwyer
School: Kambora Public School
Category: Primary school writing

Authors' statement: My poem is about the idea of everyone breathing to the same song.

As I stepped out of the city and into the rainforest, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. The air was fresher, the trees were greener, and the sounds of nature surrounded me. I have always felt intrinsically entwined to the earth, and this hike was exactly what I needed to reconnect with my roots. I walked along the path, taking in all the sights and sounds around me. I could feel the earth beneath my feet, grounding me and connecting me to something deeper.

The rainforest is an exotic tapestry woven with the threads of nature; every living thing plays its part in a harmonious rhythm. The leaves of the towering trees are the dancers, swaying and descending in the gentle breeze. The rivers are the veins, coursing through this living, breathing organism. The animals are the actors, each with their role in this complicated drama.

An intriguing feeling came over me like a gentle push, making me advance deeper into the undergrowth. An eerie veil of silence blanketed the trees. Fear and curiosity clouded my vision. The rainforest looked as if the trees were reaching the sky like outstretched hands, casting long shadows in the silver moonlight. The leaves rustled beneath my feet like a gentle whisper, beckoning me to walk deeper into the forest. And then I heard a voice calling out to me, like a beacon in the night.

“Finally, a visitor,” someone said in a rough lonely voice like gravel. My heart skipped a beat. I started glancing around looking for whoever spoke. My heart felt like a cage with a wild animal trapped inside. “Hello Andrew,” the voice said. A tsunami of fear crashed over me. How do they know my name? “It is good that you are here and at peace with us.” I was as lost as a stray dog in the city. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I slowly turned around in trepidation.

The large decrepit gum tree stood there. “Maybe just a figure of my imagination,” I thought to myself.

Gradually I stopped panting and just stood there trying to accept the voice was just my imagination playing tricks on me. The large gum tree shifted. “You need to learn a lesson,” the voice said. I was drawn towards the tree.

The large trunk and branches towered over me. It emanated presence watching over the rainforest. The bark was etched with the wisdom of the ages, and it was as if the tree was alive with an energy that I couldn't quite explain. On the engraved bark, it showed our values and beliefs, our understanding of the world and its creation.

“You are now a knowledge holder Andrew,” the tree said.

A million emotions formed into a whirlpool in which my mind was drowning in. I was so shocked that I couldn’t speak.

“Mr Andrew,” a student said. “Did this happen? Is the tree real?”

Author: Flint Foote
School: International Grammar School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: The First Nation People's tradition of passing information from generation to generation orally inspired me. These people who are given the right to pass down this knowledge are called knowledge holders, and this is what I wanted to incorporate in my story. This story represents the power of nature and how it teaches the main character a valuable lesson.

This is my dream…

The date is the 26th of January 1788, but I don’t know that at the time because my mob don’t record time by numbers and dates.

I am sitting with my family living a life my people have been living for over 65,000 years. I did not know it at the time but today life as I knew it was about to change forever.

My people lived off the land, we saw the land as our Mother and if we looked after her, she looked after us. We were free people who swam in crystal clear water holes, we ate wherever the food was, and everyone was part of my family.

We were a proud people we had laws, culture, and traditions, we had ceremonies and believed in the Dreamtime.

We didn’t all talk the same language and have the same customs there was actually over 250 different language groups on this land we now call Australia.

Life as we knew it was good but all that changed on the 26th of January 1788 when 11 big boats arrived. Those boats planted their British flag in our land and declared it Terra Nullius which means land belonging to no one but what about me what about my ancestors don’t we exist?

The people on those boats took our land, chopped down trees and put up fences so we could no longer access our food, they spread diseases that we had never seen before, they stole babies out of their mother’s arms, those poor Mothers often never saw their babies again.

Once the invaders had settled in, they then removed us from our traditional lands and threw us into missions, they labelled us as fauna we were not even seen as humans to them.

We tried to work with them we fought in both WW1 and WW2 as Australians and then when we returned, they wouldn’t even let us wear our uniform in public or March in the ANZAC Day March because it was an embarrassment for Australia.

Now the year is 2023 and the relationship between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people is changing this was seen in the 1967 Referendum when over 90% of non- Aboriginal Australians voted yes for the protection of Aboriginal people’s rights.

Then again in 2000 when over 250,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of Reconciliation between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Australians. Nelson Mandela, who was the South African Prime Minister, watched that march and said, “the bridge walk was evidence of a country wanting to heal itself and deal with the hurt of the past”. Also, in 2008 a National Apology was given by the Prime Minister at the time Kevin Rudd for the forceable removal of Aboriginal Children from their mothers and families by the Australian Government and then in 2022 the Australian Government after 234 years has agreed to fly the Aboriginal Flag on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed and that is the date that Australians celebrate Australia Day!

Every year on the 26th of January the same date that those 11 boats arrived on Australian shores people all over Australia celebrate Australia Day, a day to celebrate all things we love about being Australian.

People fly Australian Flags, hang out with family and friends, there are BBQs, lamingtons and people head to the beach.

However, Australia Day for Aboriginal people is a day of mourning, a reminder of all the pain and suffering that started on that very day when the people aboard those 11 boats stepped ashore at Botany Bay, that pain and healing is still continuing 235 years later.

The 26th of January is a reminder of everything that was taken from us as Aboriginal people. We still need a day to celebrate Australia Day because we do live in a beautiful country with an amazing variety of different cultures, but it needs to be a date where all Australians can be part of it.

Australia Day needs to acknowledge that not all Australians come from those 11 boats, but we come from many different cultures some who have been here for over 65,000 years and others that have only recently started to call Australia home.

Aboriginal people are the world’s oldest surviving people, through all the hardship, hurt and pain we are still here, we survived!

We are now stronger and prouder then ever and that needs to be celebrated. Australia Day should celebrate all the people and cultures that live in Australia from Aboriginal cultural practices like smoking ceremonies and tradition dances to even just having a yarn about the old times, it should also include the other things that as Australians we love like wearing thongs, blue singlets with zinc on our nose, Chinese food, a yummy Curry or even a meat pie with tomato sauce.

Australia Day should be a day that we celebrate living in one of the luckiest countries in the world, a day where everyone can embrace and reflect on what it means to be Australian to them, this will never happen if Australia Day continues to be celebrated on the 26th of January… that date should be reserved for reflection, healing, nurturing, and understanding.

In my dream this would all be a reality.

Author: Eden Lowrie-Jones (Judge's Choice)
School: Narrabeen Lakes Public School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: The 26th of January is not a day of celebration it is a day of mourning and reflection. Australia Day should be celebrated on a day that all Australians can celebrate what it means to them to live in such a beautiful country.

This story is about a time a thousand years ago when there was a Mulga Tree (Wattle Tree) near a calm pond. This tranquil scene had long been a place of reflection and contemplation for the Muruwari tribe that lived nearby. Each year in the springtime, the Mulga Tree began to burst forth with vibrant blossoms. As the Mulga Tree continued to flourish, its branches became heavy with shiny golden flowers and tiny seeds. The Muruwari tribe saw this as a sign of abundance and blessing from their ancestors.

In the beginning, the Muruwari people were possessive over the Mulga Tree because they didn’t want other tribes taking their Mulga seeds. The other clans that lived close by complained that they too needed the rich Mulga seeds to feed their families and loved ones. But the Muruwari people refused to listen, and they didn’t have sympathy for the other tribes.

There was a Rainbow Serpent watching the Muruwari people. The Rainbow Serpent noticed that the Muruwari people fought over the Mulga seeds and didn’t share them with any other tribe. So, the Rainbow Serpent made the blossoms fall off the Mulga Tree and blocked the Sun, Moon, and Stars. The Muruwari people’s hopes were lost when darkness took over. The Mulga Tree gave the Muruwari people food to grow. They felt a sense of desolation and hardship.

In desperation, the Muruwari people cried out to the Rainbow Serpent “I beg you; can you please unblock the Sun, Moon, and Stars and give us back our Mulga Tree?” The Rainbow Serpent agreed only if the Muruwari Tribe promised to share the Mulga seeds with the other tribes. So, the next day, the Sun came out, and the Moon and Stars glistened in the night sky. The Mulga Tree started to flower with lots of blossoms.

This taught the Muruwari Tribe one big lesson about nature. The lesson was how to appreciate what the Mulga Tree does for them and the importance of sharing with the other tribes. As they spent more time observing its graceful branches and vibrant blossoms, they began to understand the deeper symbolism embedded in its existence. The Mulga Tree served as a symbol of interconnectedness, a gentle reminder that in the grand tapestry of life, they were not isolated beings but rather integral threads in a larger, more intricate web.

For generations, the Muruwari Tribe told stories about the Mulga Tree and the pond, stories that spoke of reconciliation and healing.

Author: Taylor Ashley
School: International Grammar School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: My story is inspired by the SRC workshop. I used tension to build up my story. It encourages the reader to follow on with the story because it has a big problem and then a plan to solve it. It is an exciting story that includes a Mulga Tree (Wattle Tree), so powerful that it gives the Muruwari tribes food. It is set near a beautiful pond which was near where the Muruwari tribe lived. The way that my story relates to reconciliation is by tribes sharing the Mulga seeds and especially the Mulga Tree itself.


It’s a warm, yet miserable summer. At least, for Poppy it is. Nothing outside satisfies her. “Winter is better,” she says. “I can curl up and read all the time in winter, and it doesn’t feel right to do it in summer.”

Summer is the best time. The wattles bloom. This signals that the whales are migrating, and their songs bring everybody joy. Summer really is the best time in nature. Over in Poppy’s world, everything is reversed. The wattles bring hay fever, and the migration ruins the time at the beach. My name is Wind, by the way. In the Wiradjuri language, my name is Giran, and I am a part of Country. Poppy is also part of Country, even if she doesn’t realise it yet.


Ugh, field trip day. I hate field trip days more than literally ANYTHING. They make us take our shoes off. Yuck. The bus smells like dirty socks and week-old vomit. The metal creaks as the bus twists and turns. The bus makes its final creak as it comes to a halt, sending everyone flying into the seat in front. Once I take one step out of the bus, I want to go back in. I trudge down to the river, dragging my feet in the dirt. In the clump of the group, I break away, disappearing into a gap in the bushes. No one seems to notice. I wander through the twigs and leaves, trying to find a way back to where I can be safe.

As I walk, I stumble and fall into a wattle tree. Oh no. The hay fever is coming back. I feel a sneeze coming, but before it comes out, it goes back in, and I see the pollen drifting out of my nose and reconnecting with the plant. I watch in shock as the flowers reach out and talk to me.

“Hello, Poppy.” The wattle touches my head and I immediately feel woozy. “Don’t worry, Poppy, you’re safe.” I stutter. “H-how are you doing that?” “You are imagining this. But I am talking to you, in a way.” This feels so strange. “I, you, and everything else here is part of Country, whether you realise it or not. You can see my flowers, right?”


“That means the whales are migrating. Watch, you can see them breaching.” I look towards the sea. “Wow, it’s beautiful!” “That is just one of the wonders of Australia. There are so many more things if you just look for them. So, remember this Poppy, there is so much in the world. Find it.” “Thank you so much.” “I’m trusting you with the knowledge of the Indigenous people. Use it well.”


And so, Poppy left the wattle bush and emerged into the world, a new girl. And every day after that, Poppy returned to the bushes and gazed at the wonders of the world. Beautiful.

Author: Dara Haddadi
School: International Grammar School
Category: Primary school writing

Author's statement: I wrote this story after being inspired by the SRC workshop. I chose two words to connect to reconciliation: trust and mending. I used third person personification at the beginning to tell from the point of view of the wind and then switched to first person to guide the reader through a story of mending and trust. The storyteller in the story is a Golden Wattle Tree who gives wisdom to a girl and teaches her about Indigenous Culture and how we can bring back stories and culture, as well as connect back to Country.

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