Guest Post: Ngapartji Ngapartji

Ngapartji Ngapartji

2005. Lee traces the story in the sand outlining the different moiety and kinship groups explaining to us the complex Anangu lores and relationships. The Sydney city high school girls listen with respect and intrigue … A few days later, we are sitting in the red dirt with Mildred and her sister as they explain in Pitjantjatjara the story of “Wadi and no Blankets” … life lessons, illuminating trickery and protection, how sisters stay together, look after one another … I find myself remembering early memories as a child in Adelaide playing … pretending I was living and teaching kids in the desert … the foretelling, unknown to our Western frameworks, is revealed gently in conversation with Leah one of our Anangu Elders and guide … 30 years later here I am: many lessons and life’s adventures have passed to finally reach this point, a point of re-remembering and discovering … all at the same time.

1999. A turning point. I find myself retracing my steps and discovering new ones when I return home to spend a year in Australia; I’d immigrated to England with my parents seventeen years earlier.

1982. As a feisty teenager, the youngest of four, my older siblings remain in Australia. I pine for my close friends back at my local Adelaide high school. Email and Social media are still to be invented. I hand-write up to six letters every night to friends and family back home and wake in anticipation of the sounds of the early letter drop to read the longed-for news and gossip from home.

1999. An adult in my late 20s I’m at a crossroads. I’ve spent the last few years ‘accidently’ building a fairly substantial career in Sales and Marketing; Direct Marketing is an emerging and innovative concept. Our clients: Central government agencies and local authorities are responding to the new term of PM Tony Blair, where Open Government is finding a stronghold. Our clients embrace the breakfast seminars we host at IDM – Institute of Direct Marketing – where Permanent Secretaries can discuss new policy initiatives and the consummate communication challenges.

1989. The opportunity to work with Suzanne Lacey from the US with 1000 Finish school students in Joensuu.

1992. Creating theatre with Tim Etchells, co-founder and writer from Forced Entertainment and Jo Scanlan, actor and writer for stage and TV, as an undergraduate Performing Arts student at De Montfort University.

1987. Learning from experimental theatre luminaries Claire McDonald of Impact Theatre and theatre set designer Simon Vincenzi as part of the audacious Cambridge Youth Theatre (CYT). Notwithstanding a wrestling match with our CYT Patron HRH Prince Edward when we perform the 80s feminist tract Trafford Tanzi in the National Student Drama Festival and Edinburgh Fringe.

2000. Spending time back home has crystallised my thinking and by the new Millennium I am back in London and begin as a PGCE Drama student at Goldsmiths. The next nine months are a place of reawakening and discovery, an opportunity to return to my first love, theatre and fuse it with my passions for creating opportunities through education. I recall how at age 14 the Principal had looked over my year 9 high school reports with grade A’s and B’s and decided, as I was entering my fourth year in their English comprehensive, it was best I was placed in the lower sets of 3 and 4 and work my way up, if I could.

1984. Still the dual two-tiered system of O Level and CSEs. I’m at the end of the fifth form counting my public examination schedule: 60 exams over two months. I am double entered for every subject with 18 different syllabuses to get my head around. I go down the pub…

The Careers Advisor suggests I go and work at Robert Sayles on a YTS scheme… stubbornly and fortunately I tell her to F_ off and re-enrol in O levels at the local Sixth Form College; years later she apologises, profusely.

These were not the type of teachers I wanted to be…

2000/2001. What I love about Goldsmiths is the calibre of lecturers and level of engagement. Drawing on the latest thinking and pedagogical practice across Education coupled with specialised workshops, tutoring and training in our field, in our case: our PGCE Drama course is led by the exceptional Deirdre Griffin.

Sitting in lectures and workshops, unpacking the effects of institutionalised and hidden racism; being introduced to the semiotics of optimal teaching practice and learning how to orchestrate and differentiate your practice to meet the complexity of needs and strengths of your students in your classroom; identifying your reflexions as a practitioner, considering the social, moral, cultural, ethical, pastoral implications fused with your strengths and subtleties of introducing different drama techniques and specialisations to match timely, the expectations and curriculum necessities at Key stages 4, 5 and 6 in an engaging, thematic and progressive manner, in sync with overarching and related pedagogies as well as cross curriculum considerations… whoo!!!

This is incredible: complex, humane and exciting and we hadn’t even begun to test our understanding, let alone the fortitude of various teaching strategies for classroom management across complex behavioural settings and challenges in different settings…

Early on, we are coming up for air once a week as a student group at Goldsmiths, throughout our extensive teaching practices where four out of five days we are put to the test to develop our practices under careful guidance of carefully chosen and matched teachers; two contrasting schools to illuminate our challenges, strengths and greater need for development.

I am blessed to spend an exceptional six months under the tutorage of Brigid Doherty, who as Head of Drama has also spent many years in theatre in England and overseas with a passion for South Africa. She draws on her extensive theatre experience, dynamic teaching practice and love of her students and staff to create some seminal work in the classroom, on the stage, coupled with every two years annual immersions where she takes her students to South African townships to create theatre and collaborative cultural exchanges.

2001. Summer Term. An intensive eight weeks teaching practice at Holland Park which at this time is notorious as one of the most “troubled and roughest schools” in London. Here I learn many critical lessons and have the opportunity to learn from many resourceful and experienced teachers, including a visiting teacher from Melbourne, Australia, Liz Sullivan who remains a close friend today.

October 2002. Joint teaching our A-level students, my Head of Drama, Lizzie Queen, also a Goldsmiths alumna following an extensive period acting in repertory theatre, has fostered a tremendous partnership where we develop and engage with some incredible students bringing Peter Brook, Brecht, Stanislavski theatre practice to life. I’m at the Tricycle Theatre talking to the magnanimous South African playwright Athol Fugard as he invites our students to come to a workshop with his actors and himself.

December 2002. Lizzie and our year 13 students – enamoured by the rhythmic telling of ‘Seven Stages of Grieving’ and further the narratives of atrocities uncovered in ‘Stolen’ engage with my introduction to ‘Blak Theatre’ and performances from Australia, disseminate my calling to go home – ‘Why are you here? Why aren’t you back home?’

Oct 2003. I land, having sold my Catford flat, returning home after 21 years, my brother Rob picks me up from the airport to welcome me home.

Nov 2003. I’m sitting in a circle, laughing with an Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Ali Golding originally from Biripi Country who now lives in Redfern Sydney, sitting next to me.

2007. Four generations of Aunty Ali’s family. My colleague Alex and I have driven up to Taree, Biripi Country, to collect them and come back down to Sydney. We are having a cup of tea in the staff room. My colleague knocks on the door – ‘Are we ready? Give us five minutes’ I say. She nods.

We finish our tea and walk out. A thousand students ages 4-18, staff, parents and guests join us as we begin. Sixty thousand years in the making, Aunty Ali Golding and her family commence the Smoking Ceremony…

Four generations of their families’ life stories are reenacted in performance, together, through song, dance, words, theatre, art and sports carnival. The whole school has been learning and working on this event for six months. Aunty Ali’s family, the Morris Family, have lived this and the impacts of these stories their whole lives.

Shoes littered across the walkway, each painted by a class with the guidance of Aboriginal man Darren Bloomfield, a member of the Stolen Generation. Each pair of shoes painted in honour of a different Aboriginal person- their gifts, talents, courage and contributions.

Aunty Ali leads the year 9 girls as they retrace the ritual of the Black Diggers when they returned home to Country after the end of World War One. A year 12 girl shares the story with permission on the microphone explaining how the ceremonious mud the women paint on their brothers and husbands is returning their men safely, spiritually back home.

2016. I’m here, at UNSW Australia, navigating programs, working with many of my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends, colleagues and students and many others to help deliver and improve learning opportunities, practice and experience. We are and need to engage more with others to deliver, bring further more extensive and diverse expertise to the table. Slowly this is being understood. More is being realised.

I remember my learning at Goldsmiths. I still draw on it every day – in my work, in my life in my home. I’m grateful for the seminal opportunity afforded me to go there – it deepened my practice, my life experiences, my understanding. It strengthened me and gave me confidence that is still robust and available through vulnerability and openness to keep learning, keep practising keep discovering.

I recall my friend Julian White who I did BA (Hons) Theatre within Leicester in the 1990s who shortly after graduating went on to do his PGCE Drama at Goldsmiths.

June 2000. Julian is teaching in an all-boys school in East London and tutoring PGCE Drama students from Goldsmiths. Before my PGCE Drama course began, he invites me into his classroom. His generosity and skill are palpable; his teaching exquisite.

I workshop with a small group of young men in year 9: they are energetic, empathetic and charismatic. They role play and devise a short piece to share with the rest of the class. At the end of the day, Julian shares how often with new teachers those boys play up, badly and compliments me on the rapport we’d built.

I’m thrilled. This confirms my passion to learn, to teach, to work with others and to give back.

To give back, to share, exchange with one another, Lee shares, is the essence of Ngapartji Ngapartji.

Rebecca Harcourt Aunty Ali Golding-7
Rebecca Harcourt and Aunty Ali Golding, photo by Amanda James

Guest post by Rebecca Harcourt (BA(Hons), IDM Cert. in Direct Marketing, CBA (Management), BTEC PA Assessor, PGCE Drama, QTS status, DipEd, SSE Fellow) who is a passionate advocate, facilitator, writer, teacher, mentor, entrepreneur -listening, learning, living working together – never forget the important stuff starts with us

After 21 years studying, working and living in the UK, Rebecca returned to live in Australia in 2003. Since then she has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities in urban, regional and remote settings. In December 2015, Rebecca was profiled in AGSM’s The Leader.