Embedding Gunditjmara culture at Warrnambool Primary School

by on Aug, Mon, 2018 in News, Stronger Smarter Stories | 0 comments

When Warrnambool Primary School Principal, Peter Auchettl, and teacher Jacqui Gore undertook the Stronger Smarter Leadership Program in 2013, they sat down to think about how to integrate the Stronger Smarter culture and ethos across the school.

“First we needed to gather information,” Peter says.  “We found out about the local mob and the history and then we made a conscious decision that any work to be done would be across the whole school not just for the Indigenous children.”

Peter says that as a result of this work they have changed their school culture and developed successful partnerships with the local Gunditjmara people.  The success of their programs was recognised in 2016 when the school won the Victorian Education Outstanding Koorie Education Award and Jacki Gore won both the Outstanding Primary Teacher Award and the Lindsay Thompson Fellowship.

Peter says he has seen the difference in the school.  The number of Koorie kids has jumped from under 20 in 2013 to 54 in 2018.  Attendance for the Indigenous kids has jumped from around 60% to be consistently above 90%, and very close to the attendance levels for all students in the school.  There are corresponding improvements in academic results, particularly around reading, and in behavior and student wellbeing.  “NAPLAN results last year were pretty encouraging,” Peter says. “There’s no difference between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids in terms of their behaviours and the way expectations are carried out.  Everyone understands that.  We’re all on the same page.”

Working with the local community

Peter says, “Before we started this journey, a number of staff, myself included, were unsure about how we could engage with our Koorie community.”  He explains that some of the uncertainties were simple things, and it made a big difference when the staff started to get to know more about the local culture and language.   “Once staff had a better understanding, it was easier to start talking about how to engage with the community,” Peter says.

Much of the success of the school is due to support from the Gunditjmara community, and in particular from local elder Rob Lowe Senior, and his son, Rob Lowe Junior, the school’s Koorie Education Support Officer.   Together with the local community, the school created a program called ‘Changing the Tide’.  Peter says the decision to embed the local culture across the curriculum for all students, rather than leaving it as a separate program for the Koorie kids has made a huge difference.  “If the children are doing a literacy unit or a history unit the local culture is embedded into that. A lot of schools will have a one or two-week intensive program or a distinct unit, but we prefer to spread it out across the whole year.”

It took time to convince the local community of this plan to teach Aboriginal culture to everyone.  Peter acknowledges the hard work of both Jacki Gore and Rob Lowe Junior and says the community are very supportive.  “They are our greatest advocates now, they are a fantastic support,” he says.  The ‘Changing the Tide’ program now embeds art, dance, language and storytelling into the curriculum and engages students in social justice discussions about the history of Australia’s First Peoples.  The Indigenous students have the opportunity to be involved in an Indigenous leaders’ program and to attend Science days with other Indigenous students in the area.  Peter says they encourage the Indigenous students to bring their own knowledge into the classroom.  For instance, for Reconciliation week students were developing posters around their local culture.

Positive People@Jamo

Another initiative has been the Positive People@Jamo program which promotes the school’s values, behaviours, and beliefs.  “A lot of the ideas for the program came from Stronger Smarter,” Peter says. “As part of this, we have a check-in and check-out in every classroom every day – very similar to the Stronger Smarter training.”  Each week they focus on a particular value or behaviour. “It’s been quite powerful,” Peter says. “It’s a great opportunity for the teachers to know where the kids are at individually and for the children to share what they’re feeling at the beginning of a day.  Then they have a chance to check out at the end of the day and share what they’re feeling about what they’ve done during the day.”

“In a sense, we don’t treat the Indigenous kids any differently,” Peter says.  “Which is exactly what the parents want.  They don’t want to be treated or be seen differently.  But they do get a chance to share their culture and learn their culture with everyone else in the class.”

The results are evident through a video on the school’s website where students describe what the school’s Stronger Smarter program means to them.  The students say, “We have big dreams”, “It’s fun to be Aboriginal.  I’m not shy anymore,” and “Stronger Smarter makes me feel proud because people know my culture.”

More information about Warrnambool Primary School at






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *