Before setting out, I was uncertain about the journey ahead of me, but I have returned home and to school with a renewed sense of self and an understanding of how I can help, and learn from, others, writes Melbourne student Khiem (Kevin) Tran.
BY Khiem (Kevin) Tran
Picture this: eight students and two teachers all from different walks of life, packed into a small bus, ready to head off on a week-long journey across the Nullarbor into the Western Australian outback.
We were the ones given the honour and responsibility to be ambassadors of St Monica’s College, Epping, in Melbourne, and to be part of the College’s first Indigenous immersion experience to Western Australia.
This experience would take us to Indigenous sacred sites and a remote primary school with a 100 per cent Indigenous population. We would witness the beauty and the ruggedness of the outback. We would get a sense of what it’s like to live in isolated areas and travel huge distances. We would learn about the work of Sister Anna Warlow and the Good Samaritan Rural Outreach Team, which supports Indigenous, rural and mining families in the Murchison and mid-west regions of Western Australia.
We each brought different strengths, weaknesses and talents to our group which helped us to make the journey together and build strong bonds. As a new student to the College, I was honoured to be selected for such an important journey. But I was nervous, too: I didn’t know all the students I’d be travelling with; I was travelling a long way without my parents and the comforts of home; I didn’t know what to expect, even though we’d been preparing for months. From the beginning it was daunting to think that in a matter of months, weeks, then days, I’d be jumping on a plane and arriving in a place that was completely foreign to me.
You may be asking, why would someone like me want to be part of this trip in the first place? I believe, if given an opportunity, you must take it, because experiences like this don’t come by very often. A trip to the outback is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
As each day passed and our departure date got closer, time accelerated. I found myself in a complete frenzy about the plane ride, mainly because of my fear of heights. At the same time, I was excited about this trip. The plane ride was one hurdle to overcome.
When departure day arrived I was still nervous about the flight, but pleased to know I’d be sitting next to my friend and not far from my teacher who travels regularly. I put on my sunglasses, turned up the music and within four hours we arrived safely in Perth to begin the next stage of our journey – our bus trip to Three Springs.
The moment we stepped off the bus after hours of travelling we were greeted by the women who would guide us through our week – Sister Anna Warlow and Elaine Walley, a Yamatji Elder and Good Samaritan Oblate from Three Springs. Elaine welcomed us to her country and invited us to watch and listen with our hearts and minds.
We visited the Amphitheatre and Granites near Mount Magnet, two significant sacred sites for the local Aboriginal people. Here we saw ancient waterfalls, caves and sculptured rocks, and nothing but flat land as far as the eye could see.
At one stage we spent some time alone reflecting on what we’d learnt so far, marvelling at the colours and the sheer beauty of the countryside. I sat on a high ledge looking back over the vast lands we’d travelled; it felt like I was flying as the breeze whipped past my ear and silence echoed all around me. I reflected on the beauty of these sacred sites. Witnessing the sun reflecting on the massive rock face allowed me to take time to reflect and look back on the things I have done and the things that I could do better. This was the moment when I properly understood what it meant to be at peace with my mind, to open my heart to all the beauty of the scenery around me, and to embrace the people I was spending my time with.
Being part of this immersion experience meant stepping out of my comfort zone – something I was quite happy to do. It also meant I’d be doing things I wouldn’t normally do, like not using my phone for four days straight and actually going outside and enjoying the sun!
Without my phone I was able to learn about many things I wouldn’t have found searching on Google. Life isn’t about Googling questions; it’s about getting out and finding the answers, learning from others and building strong relationships. By doing this, I was able to learn about Elaine Walley and her journey with Sister Anna and the Good Samaritan Sisters. I was also able to listen and learn from people living in the outback and discover the important work that people like Sister Anna and Elaine do in these communities, forming strong bonds and networks.
At Cue Primary School we met the 15 children currently enrolled there, all Aboriginal students. We also met Cathy Jones, the Principal, who has devoted her life to the education of children in this region. Cathy’s understanding of Indigenous culture and education opened my eyes to the injustices that Indigenous people face. I was able to see that by learning about other people’s cultures, it could stop the negative misunderstandings and prejudices that people have.
By simply engaging in conversation and kicking the football with the children here, I could see it brought them much happiness and joy. When you’re open to understanding and learning about others, it gives you an opportunity to see the world differently, to show compassion and respect towards those less fortunate than you.
We travelled huge distances on our trip – 8,000 kilometres in total! It was tiring, but the beauty of what we saw and the time spent together was so valuable. Not only was I able to bond with my peers, I was able to make long-lasting friendships.
As a result of this experience, I embrace each day, learn from people, listen with my heart and cherish every opportunity. You can be what you want to be, overcome obstacles and do anything that you put your mind and heart to – I’m proof of that. Before setting out, I was uncertain about the journey ahead of me, but I have returned home and to school with a renewed sense of self and an understanding of how I can help, and learn from, others.