If you’ve got knowledge your ears and eyes grow

‘I went camping, Uncle Pat!’ Children at Tumut Community Preschool are thriving with the inclusion of Uncle Pat Connolly’s wisdom in their learning.

As Uncle Pat pulls up to the fence a flood of children run to greet him.

“Uncle Pat, Uncle Pat,” they shout, all determined to tell him their news. “I scratched my leg, Uncle Pat,” “I went camping, Uncle Pat,” “I stayed at my Nan’s last night Uncle Pat!”.

Uncle Pat Connolly, Wiradjuri/Yuin/Ngunnawal man and Elder-in-Residence at the remarkable Tumut Community Preschool reaches down to pat a head or grab a hand pushed through the fence. He patiently listens to all the little-people-yarns they share with him, smiling broadly the whole time.

The Wiradjuri Elder is on one of his frequent visits to this early education centre where he teaches the youngsters about his culture and his Wiradjuri language. His relationship with the children and their teachers has been developed alongside the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). A plan which was fundamental in developing the centre’s application for the Narragunnawali Reconciliation in Education Awards 2021, of which they were joint winners in the early learning category.

Wiradjuri/Yuin/Ngunnawal man Uncle Pat Connolly with the children of Tumut Preschool. Photo: Al Harris

Wiradjuri/Yuin/Ngunnawal man Uncle Pat Connolly is Elder-in-Residence at the Tumut Community Preschool, where he shares his knowledge and culture with the children, and by extension, their community. Photo: Al Harris

Uncle Pat’s own educational experience was vastly different from his young fans. His parents and his eleven siblings were constantly on the move to escape child welfare attempts to steal Aboriginal children as part of the overt assimilationist policies of the time.  

He left school at 14 because, as he puts it, “Some of the white people didn’t want their kids going to school with the Black kids”. So Aboriginal children were encouraged to leave school early and join their families picking fruit and veggies for local farmers. 

Speaking his own Wiradjuri language was a punishable offence and he remembers adults speaking the language in low tones, afraid that if they were caught by the mission authorities, serious punishment would result. “Our Uncles and Aunties knew that if they were caught speaking language; teaching the kids language, they would come and take the kids away.”

“We knew a few words, everyone did, but if you were caught speaking it at school, they had this big, whippy cane….”

Today when he visits the preschool he is often welcomed in his own language by the children.

“It makes me feel tremendous. They tried us to stop the language, we couldn’t even practice our own culture, it was all stopped. But now we’re getting it all back.”

The above is an excerpt from Reconciliation News – May 2023.

Read the full article online in the latest edition of Reconciliation News. 

Tumut Preschool were joint winners in the Early Learning category of the Narragunnawali Awards. 

This year marks the fourth Narragunnawali Awards, recognising outstanding commitment to reconciliation in education. To learn more about the Awards visit: narragunnawali.org.au/awards

This edition of Reconciliation News is all about the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice. Download the PDF or read the full edition online.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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