Stones inspire indigenous pride


Stones inspire indigenous pride

THE boys were feeling lost. The indigenous youngsters weren’t fitting into the world around them and were desperate for a sense of belonging.

Their parents knew something was missing and that’s when they came to John Murray.

“Their parents needed them to have that cultural sense. They wanted that indigenous influence,” he said.

Mr Murray was the ideal man for the job. As a Koorie engagement support officer with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, he instigated a project in 2011 to help share Aboriginal history, lore and traditions, past and present.

That project – Learning Stones – has since spread to 50 schools, kindergartens and public places, such as hospitals, across Gippsland and the Mornington Peninsula.

Learning Stones is a simple concept with a deep meaning, for indigenous and non-Aboriginal communities alike.

A stone is laid in a public spot and accompanied by tables, chairs or art. Then people gather.

“The stone was a place for the indigenous guys at school to have a sense of place, somewhere where they could be welcomed. It was somewhere the kids could have ownership of, be they indigenous or non-indigenous,” Mr Murray said.

“What we are doing is creating a forum for conversation so that we can sit down and share ideas.

“It is also a place for indigenous elders to come in and tell stories because that is becoming a lost art. It’s that support they’re developing (with the younger generation), giving that sense of where they have come from.”

Some Aboriginal people see the stones as safe places to dance and play traditional music around, and as places where they can grow within their own identity.

“This about creating a space where people feel comfortable enough and say it’s okay to be Aboriginal,” Mr Murray said.

He initially took the idea to South Gippsland Shire Council CEO Tim Tamlin, whom sourced a reliable supply of rocks from an old river bed.

Before the rocks are installed, they are ‘smoked’ (to cleanse them) by Boonwurrung descendant Steve Parker, and opened with the traditional indigenous welcome to country and smoking ceremonies.

Every stone is presented differently at each site, reflecting the characteristics and the culture of the location.

At Inverloch Primary School, a graffiti artist spray-painted the wall behind the stone. At Community College Gippsland in Leongatha, the stone is bordered by coloured poles and seats decorated with mosaic tiles.

The members of the Nyora Men’s Shed built seating around the stone in the town and at Loch Primary School, a mural was created as a backdrop.

Stones at kindergarten help children make the transition to primary school; when they go to a school with a stone installed, the site is instantly familiar.

Above all, Learning Stones are changing South Gippslanders’ understanding of indigenous culture.

“When we think Aboriginals, it is a lot of dot painting and it’s a lot of stuff that has come from the Northern Territory and does not identify with a lot of Aboriginal people in Victoria,” Mr Murray said.

“We are finding that people in our community who are indigenous are standing up. Learning Stones are opening that door for people to explore their own identity. We have mothers and fathers come along and say their parents have indigenous backgrounds.”

The message is spreading with the help of a Facebook page, ‘Learning Stones’, and a website – – that may one day contain indigenous education videos and teachers’ resources.

Such is the success of Learning Stones, the project has been the subject of a presentation by education department secretary Nicholas Pole at a state conference and retains the backing of regional department director John Allman.



Reflective time: John Murray at the site of the learning stone to be opened at Community College Gippsland’s Leongatha campus next year.

Reflective time: John Murray at the site of the learning stone to be opened at Community College Gippsland’s Leongatha campus next year.

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Posted by on Dec 30 2014. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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