Wednesday, 29 May 2024

St John’s Grammar School R-12 Reconciliation Assembly

Rod and I are pleased to join you for this whole school, cross campus assembly.

I thank Cliffy for conducting a cleansing ceremony for us all today.

As Governor, it is my privilege to walk a path of reconciliation with indigenous and non-indigenous South Australians.

It is a privilege but against the backdrop of our State’s foundational documents - the Letters Patent, the South Australia Act 1838, and the Proclamation itself – I feel a responsibility as holder of the State’s highest office, to do so.

If you’re curious, I’m sure your History and Humanities teachers could tell you more about these documents.

During Reconciliation Week, we acknowledge the harm that has come to indigenous people throughout our nation’s history, and we come together for healing and to forge a path together.

As Governor, I am heartened by the many examples I have seen of what is possible when we commit to genuine engagement, inclusion and learning and a shared love of country.

On Sunday Rod and I participated in the National Sorry Day event at Colebrook Reconciliation Park in Blackwood. I know some of you were there too.

The Blackwood Reconciliation Group, which organised the event, is a great example of an organisation that has indigenous and non-indigenous members working together to create healing in our community.

Earlier this year the group introduced me to a group of indigenous people who, as children, were separated from their families and lived in the Colebrook Children’s Home, on the site where the Reconciliation Park now sits.

I was deeply moved by the generosity they manifested in sharing their stories, their strength, and their wisdom with me.

Spending time with indigenous people has also helped me to see differently, especially country.

Recently, on country outside of Roxby Downs, I was walking along a track with Kokotha elder Roger Thomas. I was half looking at the track, half looking at the sunset.

Roger suddenly stopped, bent down and picked up a stone - a flint. It had a deep impression of a thumb print and a sharp edge. It had been used as a cutting tool, by First Nations people, likely over many generations.

His eyes had seen what mine didn’t. He was in tune with country in a way I would like to be.

Something else Rod and I enjoyed was a tour of Granite Island at Victor Harbor with Mark Koolmatrie, a Ngarrindjeri man, who told us the creation story of Kondoli the whale.

Previously in my mind, and perhaps yours too, these places were associated with warm memories of childhood – time spent with family at the coast.

After doing the tour I saw these places with fresh eyes.

The land had layers: it was a place from my past and it was the land of the Ramindjeri and Ngarrindjeri people, whose deep connection with this place went back tens of thousands of years.

A month or so ago at Brownhill Creek, a short drive from here, I sat near a 450 year old Shelter Tree, of significant importance to the Kaurna people.

Near me, a cultural burning was taking place. I immediately wondered if we were in danger, but it was a cool burn.

I was invited to walk through the ashes and I remember feeling surprised at how cool they were.

I share with you these examples to demonstrate the importance of indigenous people having opportunities for truth telling and for sharing their culture, and for non‑indigenous people to respond with deep listening, and the openness to see and understand things differently.

I encourage you to seek out opportunities to read indigenous people’s stories, to spend time with Aboriginal people, especially on country if you can.

Learn some indigenous language too, as language is powerful.

The St John’s Year 10 students who travel to the APY Lands each year may have this opportunity.

Rod I have seen in the APY Lands that people live differently in some ways to here in the city.

For all of us, growing up in Adelaide, we live in one world.

But many Aboriginal people have to live in two worlds, across two very different cultures, to be successful.


I was heartened to learn that your school is developing a Reconciliation Plan, one of the first of its kind in South Australia.

I thank your principal, teachers and school community for developing a clear plan and action steps so that St John’s can be part of the reconciliation journey in the local community and beyond.

I was pleased to hear that a lot of activities are already underway, such as every group of students, from the Early Learning Centre to Year 12s, writing their own acknowledgement to country with words that resonate with them.

You are also very fortunate to go to school so close to Belair National Park, where you can experience nature and connect to Kaurna land.

I also thank your student Reconciliation Ambassadors for volunteering to take on these roles.

I wish St John’s all the best as you progress your reconciliation plan.

In line with your school value of ‘empowerment’, I hope you all feel empowered to be part of creating a more socially just society for all South Australians.

As this year’s Reconciliation Week theme reminds us, we need this Now, More than Ever.

Coming events