BY ALEX TIGANI
The Yarning Circle at King Street Public School is a safe space where the kids can say anything, that’s if they get a word in edgewise around Mrs Pauline Mitchell (aka Jengwullah which translates to mouth almighty).
The Aboriginal Education Officer at King Street laughs out loud at her nickname and demanded The Hunter River Times call her that and the colleagues around her didn’t argue.
To say Mrs Mitchell is enthusiastic about her latest project is an understatement.
The Yarning Circle in the school’s playground was built with financial assistance from the Singleton Landcare Group and Woolworths and hard work put in by staff and students. The outcome is a safe space where students can speak freely.
“It is a place you come to for your knowledge, you sit with young and old, you come to celebrate, you come to talk about the things that you are worried about, there is free speech and you leave the circle with knowledge and better understanding,” Mrs Mitchell said.
“The kids talk about their school life, their home life, their community life, they talk about what is going on in the world and they leave feeling better having learnt something.”
The circle itself consists of study wooden block seating sitting on a ground cover of river gravel and woodchips with the surrounding garden planted with some 180 plants including acacias and lilly pillies.
There are plants used for bush tucker and medicines and conversations within the yarning circle are often based around the Aboriginal culture.
“But this space is for all students, indigenous and non-indigenous,” Mrs Mitchell said adding that the conversations can get ‘heavy’.
The students have been learning about Mrs Mitchell’s life and can’t quite believe what she went through.
She tells them the story of her dream to go to school. Mrs Mitchell’s parents had to write a letter to the principal asking his permission and if he said no, there was nothing they could do about it. When you think about it, that wasn’t so long ago.
Mrs Mitchell said it is important to continue to talk about culture so that it is not lost in translation but that the circle was a place where all sorts of issues were spoken about.
Year 6 student Nathan Dale was involved in the project and said it was all about respect.
“You have to show respect, you can talk about anything, there is no judgement about what the people say and you have to leave having knowledge,” Nathan said.
*This story was published on Friday, July 3 2020.