Freedom to Speak

The Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom School (GGFS) at Coffs Harbour is the first of its kind in NSW: a bi-lingual school where lessons are taught in Gumbaynggirr language for children of the Gumbaynggirr Nation. GGFS opens its doors to its inaugral class of bright-eyed students on February 7 2022. 

The creation of this landmark place of learning is the dream of Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation (BMNAC) founder and CEO, Gumbaynggirr Bundjalung man Clarke Webb. 

“For our children to express who they are as Goori people and be really proud of that is important to their self-esteem and also their educational outcomes.”

International Best Practice

Classes will address the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) outcomes, like any other school, but the teacher will be speaking in Gumbaynggirr for all lessons except English. GGFS teachers use First Nations ways of learning, like lessons on Country and storytelling, acknowledged by educators internationally as some of the most effective ways to engage children.

GGFS Chief of Operations and Programs Director, Gumbaynggirr man, Nathan Brennan, believes that “Strong in culture means strong in education.” The students will be “immersed in language”, which teaches underlying Gumbaynggirr philosophies of respect for Country and celebration of cultural identity.

“Language and culture are one and the same and key to any culture, across the world,” says Nathan Brennan.

Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom School

Fresh Air for Education

Classes on Country will take students outdoors for lessons, where core subjects like mathematics and geography are taught using the environment as one big, natural textbook.

“For example, we examine rocks, counting the different types that occur in the landscape – this is maths,” says Nathan. “We count flora and fauna and start to learn about biology and ecology – that’s science.”

A Dream Come True

The Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom School has been years in development, with a successful pilot running in 2021. Funding has come from philanthropic donations and the support of local businesses, who understand the value of the Gumbaynggirr culture for everyone.

The Class of 2022 will comprise 15 students from Kindy to Year 2, with plans to expand to Year 6 by 2024, eventually becoming a fully-fledged K-12 school. The classroom teacher is Gumbaynggirr woman, Ms Tahnee Philp, returning to Country from a successful teaching career in Sydney; there will also be two Gumbaynggirr specialist language teachers.

Gumbaynggirr Giingana Freedom School

World Connection

The opening of GGFS upholds the United Nations’ International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032), a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly to empower First Nations language users. The Declaration works to empower ‘Indigenous peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, to an education in their mother tongue and to participation in public life using their languages, as prerequisites for the survival of Indigenous languages many of which are currently on the verge of extinction’ (UNESCO, 2020).

Holding Culture High

Founder Clarke Webb says, ‘This school is important on a number of levels. Firstly, it is key to the revitalisation of Gumbaynggirr language and culture, and secondly, it is of the utmost importance that our children can attend a school that holds their culture in the highest regard, ensuring they feel culturally safe on a daily basis.

You’re not wrong, mate.

We wish the kids, the teachers and the families all the best and congratulate the dedicated team at the Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation for making their dream a reality. This is a proud moment for everyone who knows how vital education is to the success of future generations of Australians. Garla-Schoolgu – back to school!

Plans for NAIDOC Week 2022 have been announced! Read all about it here.