The Yiramalay Studio School was born from a partnership between two diverse communities and their shared vision to bring about positive change through education.
Today Yiramalay enrols 60 Aboriginal students from across Australia. Each year, the Studio School also welcomes approximately 120 Year 10 Wesley College students who join new Yiramalay students in a three-week Induction program at the Yiramalay site.
A meeting of like minds
The foundations of the Studio School took shape in 2004, when Wesley College Melbourne was invited to join a project to preserve Indigenous languages in the Fitzroy Valley, WA.
Former Principal of Wesley, Dr Helen Drennen, journeyed to the Kimberley to discuss the project with members of the Fitzroy Valley community, including Bunuba Elders June Oscar (now the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner), and Fitzroy Valley leader Joe Ross.
A shared sense of purpose
Helen and the Bunuba Elders quickly realised that, despite their physical distance and cultural differences, they had many interests and goals in common – in particular, a deep desire for reconciliation and change through education.
Bunuba and Wesley communities cemented their shared purpose by signing a Memorandum of Understanding. The Memorandum outlined both partners’ commitment to:
- expanding the horizons and life-choice expectations of Aboriginal youths
- enriching and enhancing whole-of-life experiences for both communities
- developing cultural understanding and a capacity to relate to others
- supporting and enhancing community cohesion.
Over the next four years, the partnership successfully implemented a range of cross-community language and cultural preservation and education projects.
Establishing the Studio School
In 2008, the Bunuba community and Wesley College began exploring the possibility of a dual-site school that would bring together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students in both remote outback and urban environments.
The two partners agreed to contribute equally to the establishment of the Studio School.
As cultural partners, the Bunuba people agreed to invest cultural capital and be involved in the development and delivery of the language, culture, history and on-country aspects of the program. Significantly, the Bunuba people donated the land and original buildings on which the Yiramalay site stands.
As the school’s educational provider, Wesley College agreed to invest financial capital for infrastructure, teaching staff, professional development programs and curriculum resources, and appoint all teaching and pastoral staff.
After two years of careful consideration and preparation, the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School opened its doors on 15 August 2010, with an official opening on 20 May 2011.
An Exciting New Chapter
On July 1 2022, the Yiramalay Studio School transferred to Studio Schools of Australia (SSA). SSA is an organisation that Wesley helped establish three years ago and which has now received significant Federal funding to support an expanded network of studio schools in WA and in other states and territories. Led by former Wesley College Principal, Dr Helen Drennen AM, SSA will model the studio schools on the success of Yiramalay (a partnership model) with an ambition to provide more Indigenous students the opportunity to access this unique and transformative education.
This is an important and exciting milestone - for Yiramalay, the Bunuba community and the SSA. The expansion of the studio school model represents a significant step to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous education. It is an opportunity that realises the earliest aspirations and dreams of both the Wesley and Bunuba communities.
Under the new SSA foundation, three new Studio Schools are proposed to be established over the next three years, which will be supported by a dedicated Indigenous Education and Resource Centre on-country. The new schools will include: a middle school studio school at Windjana Gorge and two studio schools at Roebourne, WA and Nhulunbuy, NT.
A memorandum of understanding signed by Wesley College Melbourne, SSA and the Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation signifies the cooperation between the parties to embrace this next phase of expansion.
Continued Partnership and the Year 10 Induction Program
Importantly, Wesley College will continue as the partner school for the Yiramalay Studio School. As such, Wesley College students in Year 10 will continue to have the unique opportunity to learn on-country on the three-week Yiramalay Induction Program, subject to Covid-related access. Yiramalay students wishing to study the VCE or IB will continue to do so at the Glen Waverley Campus.
For Wesley College students and their families, the Yiramalay Studio School forms one aspect of the College’s commitment to reconciliation and Indigenous engagement. We will continue to explore ways in which engagement with Australia’s First People’s remains a vital part of the College and our community.
“Yiramalay is important to the Bunuba people. It is our way of demonstrating that children and their learning is important to us. It is a learning environment where our young people are fully supported to pursue their journey, to create a future full of opportunities and achieve the best outcomes for themselves.”