School of Education, Queensland University of Technology, PO Box 1376, Caboolture, Queensland, 4510, Australia
Cherbourg State School is some 300 kilometres northwest of Brisbane. It is situated in an Aboriginal community at Cherbourg with approximately 250 students, all of whom are Indigenous Australian children. Cherbourg State School aims to generate good academic outcomes for its students from kindergarten to Year 7 and nurture a strong and positive sense of what it means to be Aboriginal in today's society. In a context where the community continues to grapple with many social issues born of the historical processes of dispossession and disempowerment, Cherbourg State School is determined that its children can and will learn to become “Strong and Smart”. It is a journey that has been charted by Chris Sarra, the school's first Aboriginal principal, in his paper Young and Black and Deadly: Strategies for Improving Outcomes for Indigenous Students (2003), which describes how pride and expectations were engendered in the school over a four-year period from 1998. In this paper I will discuss the historical context of the school and its impact on the Indigenous people of Cherbourg. My aim here has been to consider the historical, political, social and cultural context around the creation of Cherbourg State School. I critically examine the historical records of the role of the State Government and the white settlers in the setting up and creation of the Aboriginal Reserve and later the primary school. Throughout I address an absence – a voice missing from history – the voice of the Aboriginal people. This exercise in collective memory was designed to provide an opportunity for those who have seldom been given the opportunity to tell their story. Instead of the official view of Cherbourg School it provides a narrative which restores the victims of history to a place of dignity and indeed humanity.
Dr Grace Sarra is a Senior Lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and is the first student at QUT to complete the Doctor of Creative Industries. Born and raised in Townsville, she is of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and has been teaching in schools from the early years through to the secondary levels and in tertiary institutions for over 18 years. Her interests are in the area of Indigenous education with a particular focus in social justice and inclusive education.