The school, for young females remanded in custody, is at Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre in the city’s western suburbs. At any one time, Sunning Hill has about 36 students, aged 12 to 18 but mostly 15 or 16. About 60 per cent are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The AEU award recognises the success of the Yarning with the Aunties – an Elders Program, which Trindall introduced. The program engages students in education by reconnecting them with their culture and heritage. The experience tells the story of the journey the students undertook in their endeavour to write a children’s book (The Aunties Remember). The students, the teachers and the Elders have come away with a better understanding of the role identity plays to enable these young women to succeed at school and to transition successfully to the community upon discharge.
Processes, rather than contents
The first step involves training all staff and elders in a model of ‘Eight Aboriginal Ways of Learning’. This Aboriginal pedagogy framework is expressed as eight interconnected pedagogies involving narrative-driven learning, visualised learning processes, hands-on/reflective techniques, use of symbols/metaphors, land-based learning, indirect/synergistic logic, modelled/scaffolded genre mastery, and connectedness to community. These can change in different settings.
Trindall worked in outreach programs at Technical and Further Education (TAFE) for 20 years, mainly with youth at risk. She has a degree in adult education from the University of Technology, Sydney, where she majored in Aboriginal Studies. She joined Sunning Hill School as Aboriginal education officer three years ago.
“In Aboriginal culture it means something to connect with somebody who knows somebody in your family,” says Trindall. “When the elders visit Sunning Hill, a lot of the girls are able to identify somebody who knows their family and build a steady relationship with them”.
“The elders provide a positive role model and a sense of worth. The girls see that they can follow their lead, they can achieve anything and they are worthy of an education, a job, a good partner and a nice family.”
Trindall, a Kamilaroi woman from north-western NSW, grew up in foster care. “I spent time away from my family, so I have a certain empathy with the girls here. I was never in any trouble, but I’ve experienced some of the issues these girls go through.”
She says that being separated from her family meant she had problems with her identity as an Aborigine, and sees the students at Sunning Hill School struggling with the same problems.
“Having a sense of identity is so important. It doesn’t matter whether you are Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. That’s what I aim to give the kids here: self-esteem, together with a passion for who they are and what they can do.”
The program is consolidated through Aboriginal art and cultural expression lessons, with students taught about their own totems and their importance in the cultural identity of each Aboriginal clan.
Recording the stories ‘Yarning with the Aunties’ has fulfilled its goal to produce an illustrated children’s book based on the lives of the elders, Our Aunties Remember. An unexpected by-product was to go a step further by producing a second book, Yarning with Aunties, about the process involved in creating the first one.
Sunning Hill School’s assistant principal, Lynne Kirkpatrick, says Trindall is the fire behind the Aboriginal Education Team and a remarkable woman. “Over the years, Trindall has not only raised her own children, but also fostered a number of young girls, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, who had no home”, Kirkpatrick states.
All this, and she has been legally blind since 2000. “I had a couple of years off when I lost my sight and then managed to get back to work,” she explains. “I’ve had to change my direction a little bit. What I do is more limited now, but I’m at a wonderful school that offers me a lot of support.”
One of her ideas is for an outdoor learning centre that includes a ‘yarning circle’ and Indigenous garden. Elders will be involved in constructing the site and planning and maintaining the garden.
“But my big dream is to find funding to open up a place for some of these young women to go to when they’ve finished here at Sunning Hill School,” says Trindall. “I’d like to see them in a nice home where they have support and can continue studying. “