A couple of weeks ago I attended one of my regular board meetings as a Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA), a funding lobby group based in Canberra. On this particular occasion the meeting was unique in that we met in Nyangatjatjara College, a remote Indigenous school in Yulara NT. My visit to this college, coupled with some further service work I did while on route through Alice Springs, reminded me of why it is so important for Scotch to remain committed to the education and graduation of Indigenous students from across the state and country.
Our Indigenous programme, which now includes some 32 students, was drawn into further focus this week at the sad passing of Mary Macha, a friend to Scotch College, who died last week at the age of 94. Mary made a contribution to our focus on Indigenous culture well before we set up our current formalized student programme.
Scotch had the privilege to know and benefit from an association with Mary Macha. A pioneer in the collection, understanding and protection of Aboriginal art and artifacts, Mary visited and researched Aboriginal art, ran a gallery in Perth, had a wide collection of her own, and advised museums and collectors. Even in the last year of her life she completed a book on Aboriginal illustrations. She respected and encouraged an understanding of Aboriginal culture and story and researched the background of all works of art she collected. Scotch benefited greatly from her knowledge and her gifts. Mary's first contact with Scotch was through her brother Tom Hill (OSC '37) who attended Scotch. Sadly, Tom died at Kokoda in World War II. Tom was a rower; very serendipitous given the Head of the River was run 3 days ago. No doubt he was watching and looking down on this year's Head of the River from above.
The first gift from Mary Macha was a large Papunya painting depicting the Year of the Child. This large and important work hung for many years in the front hall and would have been seen by many hundreds of boys. Perhaps the first time they had seen Aboriginal art.
In the 1980's Mary Macha and Julie Dickinson (wife of our 5th Headmaster William Dickinson), created an Artist in Residence scheme within the school. Groups of artists would be invited to Perth when their works, and work of their area, were being displayed at the Perth Aboriginal Art Gallery, which had been established by this visionary woman. Needing accommodation, room was made for these visitors in the boarding houses and, in return, the visiting artists demonstrated their art skills.
The first group, Alex and Augustine, came from the mission at Kalumburu, Alex had never been to a city and had never seen so many boys at once. They demonstrated spear making using bamboo from the headmaster's garden and glass spear tips from beer bottles. They then coached boys in spear throwing on the top oval.
The second pair Turkey and Kaapa, came from the Central Desert region. They were very impressed by the marching and assembly. They sat in the Junior School Courtyard and painted an intricate and beautiful Papunya. The skill with which they painted the tiny dots to build up the symbolic forms delighted boys and staff.
The third group were Bardi people from One Arm Point north of Broome. They brought with them a Bardi raft, an ancient form of fishing raft still used today. The intricate raft made of balsa wood in two pieces carefully locked together without recourse to nail or screw. They then proceeded to coach the boys on the swimming pool on the art of paddling. It must be the only time in history that a Bardi raft had been launched on a chlorinated swimming pool!
The last group to arrive were four artists from Oenpelli whose paintings were pictured on a set of postage stamps. While they did not paint while at school, they met and interacted with boys.
Recently Mary Macha donated a very valuable and beautiful collection of artifacts to the school, examples of hunting and gathering tools, which are on show in the front office. The collection the school holds is unique, and we are deeply honoured to own such wonderful examples of Aboriginal culture for all students to access. We are very grateful that Mary Macha should have chosen to expand our Indigenous collection and enrich our commitment to reconciliation through her passion, generosity and of course her legacy in the form of art.
In closing I would like to congratulate all boys, staff and parents associated with our boat shed. There is no doubt everyone put in an outstanding effort representing Scotch on the weekend. While finishing 4th overall in the Hamer Cup, only 6 points separated 2nd and 6th. Our first VIII finished a commendable 4th. As Headmaster, I was very proud of the way the boys represented our great College.
As we commence week 8 let us maintain our focus and energy as the term reaches its latter stages; a time when our resolve is challenged.
Have a great fortnight,
Dr A J O'Connell