Anne-Eline Bourgoin, Business Development Coordinator at Executive Risk Solutions (ERS) and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Coordinator for ERS, flew to Onslow last week with the Wirrpanda Foundation team to spend time with the students of the Onslow Primary School. She tells us about her experience.
I was lucky enough to be chosen to go to Onslow with David Wirrpanda and his team last week to participate in the Wirrpanda Foundation program conducted at the Onslow Primary school. Fiona and Scott Houston, the owners of ERS, successfully bid for participation in the program at a charity event last year. They thought it would be a great opportunity for a member of our RAP working group to experience the interaction with the local community and as background to our Plan.
The Wirrpanda foundation was launched in 2005 by David Wirrpanda, a West Coast Eagles legend. The foundation is known for its community work in helping to improve the lives of young Indigenous Australians.
The program started On Tuesday 21 July when we all met for the first time at the Perth Domestic Airport. The team consisted of 15 people all from different backgrounds, location and industry: David Wirrpanda founder of the foundation and ex West Coast Eagles player, James Grabski from the Community Development program at the West Coast Eagles (and also the best man at my wedding in December, what a coincindence!), Nicole Rendelle from Netball WA, Asad Hosseini from Athletics WA and also a promising runner, Josie Janz from West Coast Fever, Sam Naughton artist and Troy Cook ex Fremantle Dockers player. Rebecca Norbury from Covs, Tammy Cesana from Work Focus, Rohan and Molly from Rohan jewellery and myself were special guests on this trip. The team was led by Matilda Cunningham, Kodie Blay and Jude Fitzgerald from the Wirrpanda Foundation.
After the introductions we jumped on a plane to Karratha and then travelled by bus for 4 long hours of road trip where we managed to find out a little bit more about each other. We finally made it to beautiful Onslow.
Onslow is situated on the Coast of Western Australia and is known for its sunny climate, fishing, camping, pearls, salt and of course the Chevron Gas Wheatstone project.
After a quick meal at the Beadon Bay Hotel, the local pub, we all went to the Sun Chalets our accommodation for the week to rest as we had a big week ahead.
Day 1 started with breakfast before the team went to Onslow Primary School to meet the children. After setting up for the week installing the Wirrpanda foundation and BHP Billiton banners (BHP was a major sponsor for this visit) we were welcomed by the principal, school teachers and the children of the school, and then we found ourselves off to our respective activities.
For the entire week the Wirrpanda team would host activities such as: AFL, leadership talks, netball, athletics, art, boxing, basketball and discussions on what’s trending. Each special guest would participate in each activity every day, running around with the kids at netball or AFL, making jewellery with Rohan the jeweler, painting pieces of a puzzle that each kid would put together at the end of the program.
On the 1st day we were told by the teachers that a few children who haven’t been to school for days and for some months came to school on the day because they were informed by other children that we were coming.
It just shows how important activities and interaction with the outside world can make a difference and can bring a little bit more excitement into these children’s life. All the kids also came from different backgrounds and not only were they from the local aboriginal community but some of them moved to Onslow because their parents are working on the different projects happening in the region. It was good to see the diversity of children from Aboriginal, Asian, New Zealand and European background.
After an exhausting day playing, talking and singing with the kids the bell rang and off they went home. We waited until all the kids left school to start putting together more than 100 giveaway bags for the children. The bags consisted of gifts from the West Coast Eagles, Netball WA, the Wirrpanda foundation and BHP Billiton.
Because we still had a little bit of time before dinner, Jude offered to take us on a quick drive around the town, looking at the salt field, the fishing spots and the Chevron rigs, not to mention the beautiful sunset.
At the end of the day we all sit down around a barbecue. Josie from the West Coast Fever netball team and also working with the foundation shared with us her experience of being from an Indigenous background. It was good to get an insight from her about racism that affects her on a regular basis. You wouldn’t think being a successful person as she is that she would be affected by it but it shows that people still have these bad perceptions about Aboriginal people whether or not they are educated and successful. Josie explains to us the traditions and healing processes when “going back to country”. She explained her thoughts on domestic violence and shared a personal experience about one of her friend’s relative who got murdered by a possessive husband. Her stories made me understand why Aboriginal people may have difficulties with loving someone or showing affection. A lot of issues seems to be linked to the Stolen Generation period. Children were stolen from their parents and did not necessarily grow up in a loving environment. They therefore replicate what they have experienced from one generation to another. She also explains to us the importance of marriage and being linked to a family. When accepted by a family there is no turning back. Which means separation is very often not an option and this is why couples stay together even if they have domestic violence issues in the relationship. Their love can sometimes be very possessive which can lead to jealousy and different types of violence.
The following day, Rebecca one of the other guests and I woke up early to watch the sunrise which was amazingly beautiful. We walked all the way from the Sun chalets to the Onslow Salt look out stopping by the war memorial where they host the ANZAC ceremony on Anzac day. A quick shower and breakfast and off we went to the school again.
On day 2, a few more students came to school, some of them the teachers had never seen before. Josie explained to us that some children don’t come to school because of genuine reasons. It can sometimes be funerals that can go for days and sometimes months. She said that sometimes they just need a little bit of encouragement and follow up to bring them back to school.
After school we hosted a community barbecue in the Onslow school garden which is beautifully maintained by the local community and shire and where you can find all types of vegetables. We invited all the schools students to come with their parents and also the teachers. 60 people were expected and we had a great turnout. Ricky the Rock (the West Coast Eagles mascot) made an appearance and the kids were thrilled to see him. Apart from a couple of them who were Dockers supporters and refused to take photos with him. That is dedication! I had the chance to speak to some of the children, one of them who came to school for the first time on that day and another one who was living with her aunty because her parents were living in Karratha .It is amazing how all these children have a different story at home and it was great to find out more about each of them.
After the barbecue some of the members of the team went to the local gymnasium to play netball as it was netball night. As we had a few professional/amateur netball players they loved the opportunity to share their passion with the local community. The gymnasium welcomes members of the local community every night with a different sport to play every day (soccer, netball, lawn ball, badminton etc…).
After a good workout we went back to the chalets and had our own barbecue with more stories to tell and to listen to. I found out more about the foundation and the initiatives they are doing and trying to implement. I also had a good chat with David Wirrpanda who has great ambitions for the foundation and who wants to take it to next level. He is also a very generous person with a big heart and I was very grateful for the stories he shared about his life and about helping other people within the community.
Day 3, Friday, was our last day. We resumed the activities until lunch time including a morning tea hosted by the teachers. All the children came together at the end and we thanked everyone for their hospitality and assistance with the program. David and Troy stressed to the students the importance of coming to school for them to be successful, confident and leaders in what they want to achieve. After the speeches, we brought back Ricky the Rock to help us with the give aways. The kids were delighted to receive their presents and sad to see us go.
A quick stop at the Beadon bay hotel for a last drink together and to reward ourselves for our efforts and off to the Onslow airport we went.
This experience was a real eye opener. I was really impressed with all the children who were all very polite, full of energy and had a smile on their face every day. All of them gave 100 % and the smile on their face was such a reward. The Wirrpanda foundation was such a professional team and amazing people to share this journey with. Everyone had amazing stories on this trip and I am so thankful for the experience.
I am taking back this experience and better understanding of the Aboriginal community to not only the team at the office but also to my family and friends who I can’t wait to share my journey with. We as a RAP working group are better equipped now to formalise our commitment to reconciliation. This trip will definitely be a significant input in our Plan and is a huge progress in understanding the local communities.
ERS is already heavily involved with the local communities with their contribution to the Roy Hill Community Foundation. In addition our Emergency Services and Security Officers working in the Pilbara have been supporting the local community in many situations where emergency assistance and support were needed above and beyond our contracted services.
To end this article, I would like to share my highlight and lowlight of the trip. My highlight was singing a traditional Torres Strait Islander song from Josie’s community with the kindy class children. The song was in Meriam Mir language and was about children heading down to the reef to explore. My lowlight was having to leave as I would have liked staying longer to learn more about these beautiful children.
If you would like to be involved into ERS Reconciliation Action Plan, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anne-Eline Bourgoin, Business Development Coordinator