Get news on reconciliation in Australia, ideas for driving reconciliation in schools and early learning services, and highlights of great things happening in schools and early learning services across the country. 

16 Dec 2021

Spotlight On – The Narragunnawali Awards 2021

The Narragunnawali Awards 2021 were celebrated in November – Australia’s only national reconciliation in education awards, recognising commitment to reconciliation in schools and early learning services.

The Awards celebrate educational environments across all sectors that have implemented outstanding and genuine reconciliation initiatives.

St Virgil’s College on the Country of the muwinina people in Hobart, Tasmania is the winner in the schools category award.

For the first time, the early learning services award was jointly presented to two winners: Tumut Community Preschool (NSW) and Balnarring Pre-School (VIC).

Watch the finalists explain in their own words what their reconciliation journey means to them, in these videos they helped produce: 

They were recognised for their successes in reconciliation by actively building relationships, respect and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Narragunnawali Team, on behalf of Reconciliation Australia, extends its warmest congratulations to each and every school and service who applied for and were nominated for the 2021 Awards.

The next Narragunnawali Awards will be held in 2023.

The workshop

The Narragunnawali Awards Finalist Workshop was held on Friday, 12 November 2021, facilitated by the Narragunnawali team over Zoom.

It was an excellent opportunity for finalists to come together with the Narragunnawali team to reflect on their own individual reconciliation journeys.

The workshop focused on both ‘talking’ and ‘walking’ reconciliation, producing a lively sharing of conversation and ideas.

It dipped into the themes of truth-telling in education settings; the centrality and complexity of relationship-building; approaches to tackling tokenism; and the importance of critically evaluating resources, asking powerful questions, and engaging in ongoing learning, unlearning and/or relearning processes.

The ceremony

The Narragunnawali Awards Ceremony was held virtually on day three of the 2021 Australian Reconciliation Convention, on 17 November 2021.

The event was hosted by SBS’s John Paul Janke and Reconciliation Australia’s CEO Karen Mundine.

We also heard from James Ensor, Chief Executive Officer of the BHP Foundation – long time supporters of the Narragunnawali program.

“Reconciliation plays a critical role in enabling choice and voice,” said James Ensor, at the event.

“We must recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as critical to our nation’s past, present and future.”

“When conversation started between our organisations, we thought a good outcome would be to have 200 schools with a Reconciliation Action Plan.”

“How wrong we were and how pleased we are to be wrong. More than 8,500 schools and early learning services across Australia have now registered to develop a RAP.”

Narragunnawali Awards Judges Sharon Davis spoke on behalf of the Narragunnawali judging panel and Reconciliation Australia board.

“Reconciliation, especially in education, is much more than awareness,” she said.

“It is more than lip-service. It is more than trauma tales. It is more than bush tucker, gardens and handprint murals. Reconciliation in education is about action. Individual and institutional action.”

The winners:

St Virgil’s College, Tasmania

St Virgil’s College on the Country of the muwinina people in Hobart, Tasmania won the schools category award.

Judging panel member Sharon Davis said the school was chosen for the way in which reconciliation is embedded at all levels – including in the strategic plan; its exemplary inclusion of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community in its work; and for prioritising caring for Country on its campus grounds.

“St Virgil’s College views reconciliation as a living, authentic and powerful means of achieving justice and peace for a collective future,” she said.  

Principal Damian Messer accepted the award surrounded by his RAP team – a very exciting achievement as St Virgil’s was a finalist in the inaugural Narragunnawali Awards in 2017.

“The group of people sitting behind me, all part of our RAP team, have been part of the journey for the last 10 years,” said Damian Messer.

“It’s just been fantastic to see our development and the way we’ve been able to engage the young men in our care – the fellas – who are our future.”

“For us it’s about the truth. That truth-telling story is so important, and once everybody in our community knows that, they can really get on board with it.”

Balnarring Pre-school, Victoria

Balnarring Education Leader, Karen Anderson was excited to accept the shared award with her Mum by her side, on behalf of the early learning centre.

“The team have been courageous, dedicated, striving for excellence and welcome any opportunity to continue their learning,” said Karen Anderson.

“We’ve had the most amazing experiences in growth, working with many First Nations women, trusting us to be respectful with what we have learned.”

Judge Geraldine Atkinson appraised the sophisticated commitment to reconciliation that Balnarring Preschool have developed.

“The early Learning Centre places a strong emphasis on children understanding our shared history and relationships which are developed locally are central to its philosophy,” Geraldine Atkinson said.

“They have [fostered] strong relationships with Traditional Owners.”

Tumut Community Preschool, New South Wales

Tumut Community Preschool Service Manager Tess Herring and her colleague Kylie Murdoch accepted the award on behalf of the Tumut Preschool community, with the rest of the early-learning facility watching eagerly on the screen as they accepted.

“From our extraordinary team of educators at Tumut, we’d like to thank Reconciliation Australia and the Narragunnawali Team,” said Tess Herring.

“We feel really honoured just to have been nominated for this award. I’d like to thank and acknowledge the beautiful Wiradjuri community, especially Aunty Sue, Trish and Uncle Pat Connolly, who is without a doubt, the most popular person to ever join our preschool. He inspires us.”

“We are not afraid of challenge and taking responsibility. Reconciliation belongs to everyone and we will use this award to support other services who want to take action and be brave.”

Judge Geraldine Atkinson emphasised the ways that Tumut have fostered a strong social justice element to their Reconciliation journey. 

“Tumut Community Pre-school showed that they have a strong commitment to social hustice, with all staff taking a pledge to challenge racism within the service and the broader community,” Geraldine Atkinson said.