The High School finalist artworks included in this year’s Schools Reconciliation Challenge exhibition, showcase students’ visions for reconciliation in Australia. By engaging with the 2022 theme ‘From River to Sea: Our Island Home’, schools and students explored and celebrated the knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their relationships with water.

Top image credit: 'DUGA (Deep Water Dharug)' © Sienna Cartwright. Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School.

High School artwork finalists

High School writing finalists

My father has shared with me tales of Indigenous peoples, telling me the first Indigenous people to walk the Noosa land, where my family lives, were called the Gubbi Gubbi people. My father gave me a speed boat last month for me to explore our oceans and surrounding land. It came with two paddles and an emergency kit just in case I got into a difficult situation. I decided to spend my weekend and use the perfect sunny day to go fishing on my new boat and explore the ocean and land of the Gubbi Gubbi People.

As I sailed out into the ocean, I stopped to do some fishing. As I was fishing, I was thinking of the Indigenous people that were here before us and what they would have used to hunt for their fish and how well they would have known these waters. I wanted to stretch my legs and go for a little walk on an island close by, so I started sailing towards it. As I approached the island, I stepped off my boat and secured it. The sun was gleaming into my eyes as I began walking in the hot, loose sand. While I was walking, I realised my water bottle did not have a single drop of water, I was thirsty. My mouth became as dry as a desert when I suddenly heard the noise of flowing water close by. I was eager to follow this sound of flowing water and so I did. With much excitement it led me to a magnificent waterfall with a big fresh waterhole, I was amazed. Once I caught my breath, I ran down as fast as I could and as soon as I reached the waterhole, I took a huge gulp of fresh water. My body was instantly refreshed.

I could see a cave behind the waterfall and as I walked into this cave, I could see amazing Aboriginal paintings on the walls. The paintings were of the Gubbi Gubbi people drinking from this waterhole and a creek leading to the ocean. I decided to follow the freshwater creek that led to the ocean as seen in the painting. As I walked along the creek bed I looked up to the sky and thought of all the great things Indigenous people have taught us, their hunting skills, their knowledge of what is in our waters, the food we eat and survival.

As I got to the end of the creek bed where I could see the freshwater meet and come together with the salt water of the ocean. I stopped and thought, here the fresh water from the waterhole and creek is meeting the salty water of the ocean. They are all mixed in together, like us people. We are all different, but we come together and unite as one just like fresh and saltwater.

Author: Sabah Jackson
School: Orana Steiner School
Category: High School writing

Author's statement: Writing this story gave me the feeling of how thankful we are to the Indigenous peoples who first walked this great land discovering all its beauty and its dangers. I have a love for the water, going on adventures and being outdoors and if it was not for their great lessons on hunting, nature and our waters we would not have the knowledge we have today.

The whirling winds, the swirling seas

The pull of the tides, it draws us in

The gift of the sea, a wishing well of wonders

The sacred retreat where our wildlife seek refuge

The heart of our island, where the waterways meet

Yet, without the soul of the island, it is incomplete

The peoples are the missing piece

The caretakers, custodians, curators

Who conserve and care for country

And all of nature's bounty

The wind whispers wisdom as it snakes through the island

If our marine and mammal wildlife can live in harmony

How can we reciprocate national unity across the skies, waterways, and land?

To reconcile our island and mould the future of our country together

Author: Maya Dias
School: Loreto Normanhurst School
Category: High School writing

Author's statement: The 2022 Schools Reconciliation Challenge theme “From River to Sea: Our Island Home” is the fundamental framework for my poetic writing piece which explores the natural beauty and wonders of our island home and uplifting the voices of all Australians to merge our waterways, skies, and land through caring and connecting to Country to find the spirit and heart of our shared home. The 2022 Schools Reconciliation Challenge theme highlights not only the physical worth of water as the lifeblood for First Nations peoples for 65,000 years but the ties to identity, spirituality, lore, Country, and cultural practices which are encompassed in the care for our island country and its sacred waterways. My poetic piece sparks conversation and deep reflection, illuminating the path forward in the journey to reconciliation through a vision to recognise Australia’s shared national identity in the pursuit to learn, embrace and celebrate the knowledge, land management practices and culture embedded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care and connection to Country for our island home. My poetic piece sheds light on maintaining gratitude for the gift of our island home and waterways which breathe life and urges all peoples to reciprocate its gestures through actively embodying the role of a caretaker and steward of the environment to heal the wounds of water resource depletion, habitat loss and industrial development and restore our island home to its original condition of health, vibrancy, and biodiversity.

On a sunny morning I decided to take my boat out to explore the ocean around Fraser Island. My father told me the island’s name changed from Fraser Island back to K’gari, the name used by its traditional owners who were the Butchulla people which means the ‘Sea People.’ I jumped into my boat and started to sail off. I could see the amazing ocean; it was like a dream. As I kept sailing, I could see something shining below the shallow water’s surface as I got closer to the island. It was a large colourful rock. The colours were bright, earthly, and so capturing. I reached down into the cold water to grab it and as I got closer I could see Aboriginal artwork on it. Could this be the rock of the Sea People? When I turned the rock over, there was a small picture map painted. As I closely studied it, I could see that it was Fraser Island with a drawing of a native tree. I decided to secure my boat to explore and follow this map drawn by the Sea People.

I secured my boat and began my journey; the map showed the beach with a walking trail leading deep into the island's land. I could see a freshwater creek and walked along it, I hoped it would lead me to the native tree. I stopped to think, why did the Butchulla people draw this map? Was this rock meant to be found? As I walked, I thought of how much Indigenous people have taught us. We would not be walking on this beautiful island, we would not know how to hunt for fish and the importance of our oceans and surrounding land. As I kept walking, I could see in the distance this huge lush green tree, the trunk was so thick and a deep brown colour, it looked exactly like the one painted on the rock but so much bigger. As I approached the tree, it took my breath away; I just stood there feeling its energy, hearing and seeing the leaves blow in the wind and the strong smell of the green leaves and bark. It was at that moment I thought this tree was supposed to be found.

The tree connects us with the Butchulla People, we walk upon the same land they once walked, looking at the same tree that once gave them life. This tree gave them shade, gave them warmth, helped them not to ever get lost and gave them shelter. This tree still gives us the same, as I sit under its big leafy branches giving me the same shade it once gave the Butchulla people, uniting us as one. It is so important for us to continue to protect what the Butchulla people once protected. This rock was meant to be found and this story shared.

Author: Jade Jackson
School: Orana Steiner School
Category: High School writing

Author's statement: I have always known that trees give life, they stand tall and strong with other trees and nature. My story is about standing strong and tall together with Indigenous peoples, united as one. I wrote this story to thank them for this land they discovered and for teaching us about all the trees on our land. I thank them for their artwork, for us to learn from and see forever.

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