Connecting to Country

As part of a continuing series, The Parents’ Website celebrates the great community work by Independent school students and staff.

When students from Ilim College Dallas Secondary Girls Campus learnt about the links in the 1800s between Afghani cameleers and Aboriginal communities, it inspired the creation of an amazing mosaic. Zeynep Sertel, campus Principal, explains.

Where did the idea for the mosaic come from, and how long has it been in the making?

After taking the secondary student leadership team to the Australian Islamic Museum at the beginning of the year where they learnt about the Afghani cameleers, the positive interaction they had with the Aboriginal community and their contribution to the wider community, we decided to do a follow up project to bring awareness about this topic on school grounds involving students and the community. The project took just over three months to complete.

The story of the connection between Indigenous Australians and the Muslim Afghani cameleers is very powerful.  What messages does it provide for us today?

Australian history witnessed two nations intertwining peacefully for decades. respect and acceptance were instrumental in forging their relationship. The Afghani cameleers sought permission from the Aboriginal people by lighting a fire, waiting for permission to be granted before settling on their lands. The journey ignited with respect, strengthened over the years as members of the two nations married one another, named their children, and even their streets, with Islamic names. This was one of the historic stepping stones that helped pave the way to the Australian multicultural society we all enjoy today.

We are pleased to establish links with the Aboriginal community and raise awareness of the positive interactions that the Afghani cameleers and the Aboriginal people had years back and hope to continue this into the future.

Can you explain how the makers of the mosaic came together – the Aboriginal community, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Ilim College community?

We previously worked with Anisa Sharif from AFP on different projects, one of which was the mosaic commemorating the Anzac Centenary. This year, we contacted her again for this great project and AFP wanted to be involved, as they look for avenues to build relationships with the community and this project involved building relationships with the owners of the land, Aboriginals, and the early contributors to the Australian society, Afghan cameleers. The members of the Aboriginal community came from diverse connections. One of our ex-Year 12 student’s lecturer in the area of Aboriginal health is Aunty Kerri, from RMIT, who is Aboriginal. We invited her and her husband to join us with this project.  Also, one of our staff members, Aysegul Erbasi, is from Aboriginal background. She invited her family members to take part in the project. Finally, Uncle Ron Murray, who is an Aboriginal elder from Wagga Wagga and storyteller, joined us for this project. We also invited the Victorian Governor, the Honourable Linda Dessau, and her husband Judge Tony Howard to unveil the mosaic. It was a great to see people from different parts of the community involved in this project.

Who did the design, and who worked on the mosaic?

I did the design. At first, Anisa said it is too detailed and it might be difficult to get all the shapes right with pieces of glass. However, with great contribution and a lot of hard work from secondary students at the girls’ campus, teachers, parents, members of AFP and members from the Aboriginal community, it all worked well.

What has been the reaction of people when they see it?

They all feel amazed at the detail of the shapes and the vibrant colours of the glass.

The Connection to Country mosaic art depicts Islamic and Aboriginal art on each side of the work with the Aboriginal, Australian flag and an Islamic symbol. You can also see the Afghani cameleers travelling through the desert, an Aboriginal man playing the didgeridoo and Uluru in the middle.

Of course, the meaningful story behind the mosaic creates awareness as many, after seeing the mosaic, said that they were not aware of this positive relationship between the Aboriginals and the Afghan cameleers. Our students feel proud to be part of this project and their Australian Muslim heritage that have played an important role in the establishment of this great country.

Images supplied by Ilim College.

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