Cabramatta Public School

Cabramatta Public School is one of those hidden gems of the public education system. The kids are smart and the teachers are dedicated. Many teachers are wary when they are posted there and then they fall in love with the place and never want to leave. I told the boys and girls that children from Western Sydney can achieve as much as anyone else, and that public education gives them that opportunity. They prove that every day-and they proved that to me. Eighty per cent of the children starting kindergarten at Cabramatta Public School speak little or no English and few can spell their name. But within three years their literacy and numeracy skills are at or above the state average.

The students showed me a DVD they produced about the story of Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people. It told of their struggle, their fight and their victory. It told us that ‘from little things big things grow’. It was very moving. Students from year 6 re-enacted the story told by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly. None of the children are Aboriginal; many are of Asian heritage-far removed from the struggles of Vincent Lingiari and his people. The song goes:

… a tall stranger appeared in the land

And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony

And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

The man who poured the sand through Vincent’s fingers was the same man who helped pour the concrete that built Cabramatta Public School. In fact, he lived around the corner in Albert Street. Two of his children went to the school and his wife volunteered in the canteen. His name was Gough Whitlam. He did great things for Aboriginal Australia. And he did great things for Cabramatta. He officially opened the new school the year I started kindergarten, and he is still a regular visitor to Cabramatta today. He helped realise the hopes and dreams of two groups of people: the hopes and dreams of Vincent Lingiari and his people, and the hopes and dreams of those seeking to come to our shores for a better life.

Under Gough Whitlam, the Labor Party ended the White Australia policy. People seeking refuge from countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were given equal access to Australia’s shores. He sowed the seed of hope for these people, many refugees who have made Cabramatta their home. He sowed the seeds for them to grow bigger dreams-a dream for something more, for something better, for greater opportunities for their own children.

The children of Cabramatta Public School are the embodiment of the humble hope of their parents and grandparents. As Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly tell it:

That was the story of Vincent LingiariBut this is the story of something much more
It is also the story of the children behind the DVD. With the help of their inspired teacher, Adam Williams, this group of 11- and 12-year olds interpreted the lyrics, developed the theme, researched, directed and acted out the story, organised the props and worked on the editing. These children may never meet any of the Gurindji people. They may never visit the Northern Territory’s Victoria River District. But they know about the Wave Hill Walk-Off, they know what Vincent Lingiari achieved and they know that from little things big things grow.

It was Gough Whitlam who heard the chorus of hopes and dreams from Vincent Lingiari and those from Asia who wanted to come to Australia. And it was Gough Whitlam who made both stories possible. The children of Cabramatta Public School honour him. They have much to be proud of and they do much to make us proud. The name of the song is ‘From little things big things grow’. It is a message with much meaning for the children of my old primary school. And it is a message with meaning for us here too.’