Friday 12 November 2021 will always be remembered as a significant day in the life of The Cathedral College (TCC). On that day a very moving and meaningful Ceremony was held at the College to Unveil a Yarning Circle.
A Yarning Circle is an important part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. The construction of a Yarning Circle creates a safe space where harmonious and trusting relationships can be fostered among those who gather there through honest, open and respectful communications.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at TCC gathered with College Indigenous Education Liaison Officers, Ms Carmen Anderson and Mr Ron Tasker, Principal Mr Rob Alexander, members of the College Leadership Team and other TCC staff members for the Unveiling of the Yarning Circle.
Among the special Guests at the Ceremony were Catholic Education Diocese of Rockhampton (CEDR), Indigenous Education Coordinator, Mr Bradley Jarro, CEDR Indigenous Education Support Officer, Ms Phillipa Johnson, CEDR Indigenous Career and Transitions Pathways Officer, Ms Shelley Major, CEDR Assistant Director Schools: Rockhampton, Mr Mike Kelso and Darumbal Traditional Owner of the land where the Yarning Circle is located, Uncle Wade Mann.
The Ceremony commenced with a warm welcome to all present by Ms Anderson who invited TCC student Melayer Guthrie to introduce Uncle Wade Mann to perform the Welcome to Country, to share a little of the fifty thousand years story of the Darumbal people’s connection to the land on which today’s gathering was being held and to explain to those assembled the traditional purpose of a Yarning Circle in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Uncle Wade explained that he had conducted a Smoking Ceremony at the site of the Yarning Circle a few weeks ago to ward off evil spirits but the addition of the sandstone rocks in recent times required him to continue to smoke the Yarning Circle whilst the Ceremony unfolded.
College Principal, Mr Rob Alexander was then invited by TCC student, Rhiannah Brown to address the gathering. Mr Alexander commenced by passing on apologies from Bishop Michael McCarthy and Diocesan Director of Catholic Education, Miss Leesa Jeffcoat for their inability to be present for today’s Ceremony. Mr Alexander said Bishop Michael and Miss Jeffcoat had both taken a keen interest in the Yarning Circle Project and they looked forward to visiting TCC in the near future to meet with some of the College’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the Yarning Circle.
Mr Alexander said the Yarning Circle had been some seven years in the making and he offered a very sincere appreciation to Ms Anderson and Mr Tasker for moving the project forward in recent times. He said the culmination of their work was the Yarning Circle that was being unveiled today.
Mr Alexander also said he was pleased to see Ms Shannon Littleboy at today’s Ceremony as Ms Littleboy, who was currently on leave from her Indigenous Education Liaison Officer role at TCC, also deserved thanks for her role in the establishment of the Yarning Circle.
Mr Alexander said that TCC placed a very high value on the close to 100 indigenous students enrolled at the College. He said the College was so grateful for their presence and that they contributed so much to making the College a place of inclusivity and unity where all were welcomed and valued. Mr Alexander said his understanding was that a Yarning Circle was a place where people gathered as equals and safely shared stories knowing their stories would be listened to and respected.
A very special part of the Ceremony was the invitation extended by student Filoreen Fetoa’i to another student Zaquan Bulsey to read out the names of the 2021 TCC graduating indigenous students. This was followed by the unveiling of a Plaque representing these graduating indigenous students from the Class of 2021. This Plaque was then planted just outside the Yarning Circle next to some recently planted Zamia Palms, a Cycad Plant unique to this area.
After this moving ceremony, student Cadence Lee asked (CEDR) Indigenous Education Coordinator, Mr Brad Jarro to address the gathering. Mr Jarro said it was great to be here at TCC on this special occasion and that he extended congratulations to all involved in the establishment of this Yarning Circle. He said as he travelled around schools in the Diocese, he was very pleased to see so many schools building these spaces where people could come together in safety as equals to share stories.
Mr Jarro reflected that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had no hierarchical structure and all people were seen as being of equal value. He said that the Elders were always held in the highest esteem and their stories kept the people closely connected to one another and to the land.
Mr Jarro shared with the gathering the meaning of Dadirri and its central place in indigenous culture. He said Dadirri was all about inner deep listening, a quiet still awareness and deep connection to nature. He said that Dadirri had been experienced by indigenous people for thousands of years.
Mr Jarro spoke with great respect about Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM, an aboriginal Elder who was the current Senior Australian of the Year. He said that Dr Miriam was a very spiritual person with a deep connection to nature and to her Catholic faith and she passes on to others the wisdom of Dadirri, of deep listening, of silence and of stillness.
Mr Jarro said he would encourage the indigenous students of TCC to visit the Yarning Circle to share stories or to simply enjoy the stillness and the close connection the space has with nature.
Year 9 student, Salome Mann, then invited Year 12 student Tylin Guthrie to come forward to deliver a reflection on her wonderful journey here at TCC.
Tylin, a proud Darumbal person, said that, as the Year 12 students were leaving the College this year, they would not have a great deal of opportunity to use the Yarning Circle. But moving forward it would be a special place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at TCC to come to simply sit and reflect in silence or to talk with others about what may be concerning them at a particular time. Tylin thanked Mr Alexander, Ms Anderson, Mr Tasker and all who had worked so hard to establish the Yarning Circle at TCC.
It was then time to move to the Closing Prayer and student Jace Sibley -invited another Year 11 student Kaliah Bob to lead the gathering in a beautiful Prayer. The Prayer spoke to the Yarning Circle being a place of storytelling and a place of gathering to sit, listen and talk. The Prayer concluded with the lovely and reflective words “Spirit of our ancestors, watch over us and keep this Yarning Circle sacred”.
Speaking on behalf of Ms Anderson and himself, Mr Tasker said there were many people to thank for the creation of the Yarning Circle here at TCC. Among those at TCC to whom Mr Tasker expressed thanks were Mr Mick Hoare, Mr Ethan Rose, Mr Bruce Sorbello, Mr Phillip Joncour, Mr Roy Thompson, Sr Margaret Dixon, Ms Shannon Littleboy and Mr Andrew Prince. Mr Tasker said Mr Prince had contributed a plethora of very useful suggestions that had been of great assistance to the Yarning Circle Project.
Mr Tasker also thanked Mr Alexander and all the members of the College Leadership Team for their great support of the Project and for doing all they could to make the dream of the Yarning Circle a reality.
Mr Tasker said that Ms Anderson and he were very grateful for the attendance at the ceremony today of Uncle Wade Mann, Mr Jarro, Ms Johnson and Ms Major. He also thanked each of these people for the assistance and advice they had provided to Ms Anderson and himself in the lead up to today’s Ceremony.
Special thanks were also extended by Mr Tasker to the people from Capricorn Sandstone Quarries and Rockhampton Mini Loads who had been responsible for supplying and delivering to the College the sandstone blocks that formed the perimeter of the Yarning Circle.
Finally, Mr Tasker thanked the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who had been an integral part of the Ceremony. He said that Ms Anderson and himself, and all who had gathered today, would have been proud of the students for the confidence, the maturity, the sincerity and the deep respect they showed in carrying out whatever task they had been invited to perform during the Ceremony. He said these outstanding young people were wonderful ambassadors for TCC and for indigenous culture.
As the guests departed the ceremony, it was obvious from their conversations that they felt they had shared in a very special event and that the Yarning Circle will play a significant part in the life of The Cathedral College today, tomorrow and into the future.