Mr BARRY COLLIER
(Miranda) [6.47 p.m.]: In a diverse society like Australia the key to harmony is the mutual respect that comes from understanding each other's cultures. That understanding best comes from contact and interaction with those from communities with cultures, backgrounds, beliefs and lifestyles different from our own. Today I draw the attention of the House to a unique project which is doing just that. Australians Let Us All Rejoice is a cultural exchange program that brings together the communities of Grays Point Public School in my electorate and Auburn Public School. This project aims to help the pupils, parents and staff from each school community better understand the diversity in the people and places of Sydney and what it is to be an Australian in today's modern world. It is about promoting the twin pillars of a culturally diverse society: respect and responsibility.
Australians Let Us All Rejoice is much more than a one-off visit by students to each other's school. This is an ongoing, four-term program that extends beyond the pupils to their parents and the wider school community, challenging their ideas, beliefs and understanding of other communities. Importantly, the program has defined aims, objectives, a variety of programmed activities linked to the primary school curriculum and an evaluation process. As a former high school teacher, I am very impressed with the structure of the project and with the work of two outstanding principals—Philip Rouland of Grays Point Public School and Mr Glen Stelzer of Auburn Public School—in putting the project together.
The project began with students completing a survey about their attitudes to and expectations of the project. Year 4 children from each school were matched with a "buddy" for the year. Grays Point students then wrote to their Auburn buddies introducing themselves, describing their hobbies, family, school and life in their neighbourhood. Of course, the Auburn students responded to their Grays Point buddies. The communication continued in term two through letters and emails. In term three, the schools each hosted reciprocal cultural exchange visits. The first, on 12 September, saw pupils, teachers and members of the Grays Point Public School community travelling to the Auburn Public School to meet their buddies face to face for the first time. The parents travelled in a second bus, stopping on the way for a guided tour of the Gallipoli Mosque. After spending time with their buddies, the students, parents and teachers watched cultural performances by Afghan and Arabic student dance groups. That was followed by a walking tour of the Auburn local business area and lunch at the school.
On Wednesday 8 November, it was the turn of Auburn Public School to visit Grays Point Public School, which is on the very edge of the Royal National Park. Auburn students, staff and parents met their counterparts from Grays Point at the park's visitors' centre. All participated in activities arranged by the two national parks officers—Mrs Wendy Affleck and Aboriginal ranger Mr David Wright. These activities focused on bush tucker and bush medicine presentations by Mr Wright. The rangers, teachers, staff and parents then walked together along the bush track back to Grays Point Public School. I met the group a short distance along the track as they neared the school. It was simply wonderful to see the happy children from both schools together, some walking arm in arm, chatting and enjoying each other's company in a true spirit of harmony and goodwill—and all this in an Australian bush setting. I could not help but think that this is how it really should be—all of us together, all Australians united under one Australian sun. I was reminded of how much we can learn from our children and how bright our future in this country really is.
As we entered the school gate the children from Auburn were welcomed by captains Elise Munro and Ryan Sorensen, vice-captains Grace Henry and Liam Unicomb, as well as prefects Kate Menzies, Ryan Agar, Diahann Munro and Toby Hooker, all resplendent in their striking red school blazers. We were all delighted to have the Minister for Education and Training, the Hon. Carmel Tebbutt, my colleague the honourable member for Auburn, and Secondary School Education Director Mrs Gail Schwedler join us at Grays Point to celebrate this fantastic cultural exchange program.
After an address by the Minister we witnessed fabulous dance and choir performances by the children under the covered outdoor learning area. Then it was off to the classrooms, with the children working together, and lunch with each of their buddies in the school playground. Lunch was provided by the Grays Point community, being sensitive to the dietary needs of the children and community from Auburn Public School.
An evaluation of the program is under way and I am looking forward to seeing what I am certain it will be positive outcomes and a continuation of the program in 2007. I congratulate and thank everyone involved in this inaugural cultural exchange program. This is about two school communities learning from each other. It is about bridging the gap through understanding not just the differences but the similarities between two different cultures within Sydney. The program "Australians All Let Us Rejoice" was devised by two very committed school principals, Mr Philip Rouland of Grays Point and Mr Glen Stelzer of Auburn Public School. This program is a credit to public education in New South Wales and it is a lesson to us all.