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Cultural immersion for Kowanyama visitors

A group of year 6 students from Kowanyama State School travelled 900km for a taste of boarding school life at NRL Cowboys House, as part of the inaugural NAIDOC Day activities and ball.

The travelling group toured several boarding facilities in Townsville during their near week-long trip South and had the chance to experience the focus on cultural immersion offered at NRL Cowboys House.

With the facility’s first student from Kowanyama now confirmed for enrolment next year, more students from the Gulf community are hoping to make the move.

Head of Department for Curriculum and Transitions at Kowanyama State School, Danielle Williams said their year 6 students have a unique opportunity to remain in community at Kowanyama for high school, however most prefer to transition to boarding school.

“For some of our students, it’s their first time on a plane, this is their first time further than Cairns in their entire lives and so in our curriculum we’ve been doing a lot about boarding schools,” she said.

“They’ve seen pictures, they’ve heard lots about NRL Cowboys House, but to actually see it in the flesh and to be able to meet staff and see the schools and see what boarding rooms look like, most of them just told me they want to stay here forever.

“There are a lot of staff here at the House who have connections to Kowanyama, but also to other communities our students have family in, so for them to automatically make connections with staff and the other students here has been really good.”

As part of their trip to Townsville, the travelling group had an opportunity to attend the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys final home game of the season, giving them a taste of the opportunities that boarding school brings.

But with a move away from community often bringing about a number of challenges, it’s NRL Cowboys House’s connection to Indigenous culture that stands out for students and helps them remain connected with home.

Danielle said that connection to country is fundamental but often overlooked, and applauded the House for its cultural security.

“The more connections they can have to their own culture gives them that sense of identity and a sense of belonging,” she said.

“Being away from home, missing your family, that’s really hard for them; but to be able to see there really are other positives really helps make those connections for them.

“Getting them to see those sacrifices they are making by leaving home has its own reward as well… they’re coming out to learn skills to come back and be the leaders of Kowanyama.”

The Kowanyama students had an opportunity to take part in the NAIDOC Day activities, even learning new cultural dances and putting on a performance of their own for current students and their families.

Their visit to NRL Cowboys House also fostered an important opportunity for staff from Kowanyama State School to see where their students would be going.

“I’ve been doing this work with communities for 10 years, so it’s such a privilege to be a part of a journey for a student who works really hard to get to be applying for a school, and then being accepted,” Danielle said.

“We often talk about them being the future leaders of Kowanyama so knowing they’re on that journey to be really positive role models is really exciting.”

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