'I am a proud Aboriginal student of Homebush Boys High School'

The opening of a new primary school in Strathfield attracted an unusual throng of high-profile dignitaries. The NSW governor, Her Excellency Marie Bashir, Premier Barry O’Farrell and the director of the State Education Department were there.

When the crowd stood for the acknowledgement of the country, one voice rang out strong and clear.

“My name is Kobe Qoriniasi and
I am a proud Aboriginal student of Homebush Boys High as my mother has passed on her heritage to me.
I would like to acknowledge the Wangal people, who are the traditional custodians of this land.”

It is a form of words we often hear at the start of public meetings and events. From 14-year-old Kobe, it
was something else: a passionate declaration of pride and a confident proclamation of self.

Smartly dressed in Homebush Boys maroon, Kobe was making his first public speech. From the reaction, it won’t be his last.

In the audience, his proud headmaster Tim Jurd was watching. He told the Scene later: “Kobe hasn’t had the opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills and we were surprised and pleased that he handled it so professionally.

“We think we have found a student leader in Kobe. He came to me after the speech and said he would be available if any other opportunities arose to do it again.

“He is one of our Aboriginal students who is proud to talk and teach others about his heritage.”

The new school, once the Sydney Adventist College, attracted the education and political establishment because it was named after Professor Bashir — as the Marie Bashir
Public School.

Kobe, however, was an unexpected star. As only one of six Aboriginal students at Homebush Boys High, he represented not only his school, but his indigenous roots.

A week later, the eloquent Kobe was still talking about the importance of promoting his culture to his peers and the rest of Strathfield.

Indeed, he believes that Strathfield’s multicultural community makes it easier for him to succeed.

“I’ve never had a difficult time growing up as an Aboriginal student in Strathfield. I’ve had a group of very supportive friends and family who do ask me questions about my background,” he told the Scene.

“I feel like it’s important to learn about my culture, otherwise it will
be lost. My nan on my mother’s side still paints a lot and I have a few of
her paintings hanging up on my wall at home.

“It’s a reminder that I am proud to be Aboriginal.”

Kobe was born to a Fijian father, who now lives in Enfield. His Aboriginal mother lives in Auburn with his brother and two sisters. He lives mostly with his father.

“I like coming from two backgrounds because it means that I have the best of both worlds,” he said.

The keen footballer learnt about his heritage from his grandparents, who often spoke about his origins when Kobe was a young boy.

“Nan doesn’t talk about it much now, but I remember her telling me stories when I was a young boy about her life and my mum and my aunts and uncles. My grandmother was born into a family which couldn’t afford to keep her, so she was given to another family,” he said.

“So she passes her stories and her traditions on to me. She’s teaching me about dot paintings and the meaning behind them.”

Homebush Boys High has one of the largest numbers of indigenous students in the Strathfield area, with three in year 12 finishing their Higher School Certificate and three more in years 7 to 9.

The school receives money from the State Government to encourage indigenous students to continue on to university. Last month, they received $41,000 more to help those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The school offers Aboriginal Studies in years 9 and 10 which is growing in popularity, according to subject teacher and year 8 adviser Muruvet Altundag.

Ms Altundag said she had taken her students out on excursions to learn about the food, artwork and history. “I teach the subject as an elective and the students really enjoy it. We had one student several years ago who won a state government art prize,” she said. “And a lot of our students who take up the elective are not from Aboriginal backgrounds.”

Ms Altundag said although the schools celebrated the different backgrounds of all its students, there wasn’t enough indigenous representation.

Kobe agreed: “That’s something that I would like to get involved with — sharing my nan’s pictures and some of her stories and her culture.

“I think I’ll definitely get more involved. Lots of my friends have asked about my background but we don’t talk about it often. I think it’s because all of my friends and I come from all around the world.”

Kobe is fiercely proud not just of his culture but also of Australia.

“I’d like to be a police officer or join the army. I want to serve my country and I want to do something noble for my country.”

While it is early days for young Kobe, Mr Jurd will certainly be watching to see if the teenager develops a desire for university education.

Homebush Boys High is not the only school helping indigenous students but it is one of the few helping those from the locality.

Education, Page 17


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