At just 16, I became a cultural advisor to my elite private school | NITV
  • Zoe's family moved to Geelong so that she could attend an elite private school. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
OPINION: These were very difficult times, feeling as though I was a monolith for Aboriginal people, writes Zoe Walters.
By
Zoe Walters

Source:
NITV
6 Jul 2022 - 8:42 AM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2022 - 11:00 AM

I am an Anmatyerre woman from the central desert.

I grew up moving around Australia, but Alice Springs will always be my home, with the red dust and clear skies always being a comforting sight.

I often feel a sense of ease when flying home across the Macdonnell Ranges and large plains of bush Country.

I remember driving out of Alice Springs and heading down to Geelong to start my high school journey, exchanging the harsh, hot sun for the colder, cloudier skies of Victoria.

I remember not knowing a single thing about the school I was about to attend, except for the fact that I'd been awarded a scholarship from years 7 through 12, and that it was where one of the royals went to school for a couple of months.

I can still recall the feelings of pure excitement and joy I had when the vice principal called my mum and personally invited me to join the elite school, and then the annoyance when my little sister went and told the rest of the family before I got the chance to.

My first time stepping onto campus was completely overwhelming.

The campus is huge with beautiful architecture and a great sense of perfection in the air, from the extremely well-kept grass to the tidy presentation of its students and staff.

It is very different from any of the public primary schools I previously attended, especially in the fact that it’s too hot to wear a suit all day in Alice Springs, and that there are only a handful of First Nations kids. It wasn’t something I noticed right away, but over the first couple of weeks became abundantly clear.

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My middle school years were a blur, getting caught up in my budding passion for musical theatre and acting, as well as trying to keep my grades up.

I didn’t find it all that hard to fit in, making friends straight away and being swept up in the lifestyle.

The biggest difference between myself and other First Nations students was that I was a day student up until year 12, as my family moved down with me to Geelong, so I had a direct support system.

Senior school was when I discovered my passion for performing. I was a part of the school choir, I did all the musicals and plays I could get my hands on, including being stage manager for the middle school productions. 

I was encouraged greatly by my teachers, whom I still hold in high regard for their role in my education.

In year 10 we performed Beauty and the Beast, where I played the pivotal role of a napkin, and I realised my calling in life is to be an actor and storyteller.

Outside the drama classroom, I became increasingly aware of the political state of the country surrounding First Nations issues and began to observe how the school handled them.

This was when I realised the school wasn’t doing an Acknowledgement of Country at any assemblies, besides a Welcome to Country at the beginning of every year.

I remember in year 10 when I reached out to two staff members and asking them to start doing acknowledgements at assemblies. 

I received a response saying that they were ‘too repetitive’. I was very confused by this answer, how can respect be repetitive?

This is the first instance of me realising how far we still must go in this world.

I then had to organise to have an Acknowledgement of Country done at assemblies because it seemed as though I was the only person who was willing to advocate to have one done.

It was very difficult at times, feeling as though I was a monolith for Aboriginal people at the age of 16.

In year 12 I was asked to have a read over the flyer for the Essay competition they hold each year by one of the school prefects, and the topic was Captain Cook. 

I agreed to read over the flyer and was frankly hurt to see that the person who wrote it had only included one line mentioning the invasion and genocide of the First Nations people.

I added in an extra paragraph talking about the devastation and impact of white invasion and sent it back to them. Little instances like these kept popping up, both with my friends and the staff, checking in to make sure things are culturally appropriate.

Although I am forever grateful for the experiences I had at school and the things they did for me, I am hoping that they continue to grow.

I hope that their leaders start to realise just how important educating themselves and their students on First Nations matters is because the school truly is such a beautiful place of nurture and teaching.

Zoe Walters stars in the candid documentary series Off Country that follows the lives of seven Indigenous students over a year at the prestigious Geelong Grammar School, grappling with family tragedy, mental health and identity issues. She shared her story with NITV.

Off Country premieres on NITV on Thursday 7 July at 8.00pm