Macleay Vocational College's Wutu durriti ngalayn (Mob Grow Strong) program has been a flying success with students celebrating their graduation at the campus (July 27).
The pilot program allowed 15 senior students from Macleay Vocational College as well as Kempsey High School and Melville High School to undertake four accredited units from a Certificate III in Aboriginal Sites work.
The program allows the students who undertook the four units to identify and record historical and cultural Aboriginal sites, artefacts and follow appropriate protocols.
After facing numerous floods, COVID-19 restrictions and teacher's strikes, the program was finally able to take place over 13 weeks this year.
It's a project that Dunghutti elder Uncle Reg Wooderson has been pushing for years after witnessing countless important Aboriginal sites be decimated in the name of development.
"I was seeing all these things that were getting destroyed and residential allotments going in where they shouldn't go and site officers that had limited ability," he said.
"You can see the smiles on [the student's] faces and next year of whenever the next class starts, it will be bigger and bigger."
Students were able to part take in hands on learning from University of Queensland archaeologist Michael Westaway, Niche Environment and Heritage senior consultant Dr Morgan Disspain as well as South West Rocks Figtree Aboriginal Corporation members Aunty Cheryl Blair and Nancy Pattison.
Dunghutti Elder Uncle Fred Kelly who was a trainer and cultural advisor to the program recalls not being able to partake in cultural activities in his childhood.
"Each generation loses more and more of the way that we did things," he said.
Now we're able to have a lot more freedom so this is a really good part of that, passing on that knowledge to the younger generation because they never grew up with those restrictions."
The program was also guided by board of directors of Dunghutti elders member Uncle Barry Vale who said it was important for students to get as many qualifications as they can.
"Get in a do it because your dad and your pop would be so proud of your work on their country," he said.
Students like Macleay Vocational College school captain Akhiri Parsons were happy to complete the program to help out their community if needed.
"I wanted to learn about the land more, and my culture and how to recognise what is part of my land and what has been there for generations before me," Miss Parsons said.
"I wanted to help keep the land as it is before it gets ruined by all these buildings that aren't supposed to be there."
Miss Parsons also said that the knowledge she had gained from the program could be used in her upcoming architecture and interior design degree.
For general manager of the Macleay Valley Workplace Learning Centre Sue Seager, this is exactly the kind of career pathways that can become available to students in the program.
"The career pathways from Aboriginal sites is that they can work as cultural and heritage officers, rangers and all kinds of things but you can also do tour guides with tourism" she said.
Mrs Seager has been part of a group that has been advocating for Certificate III in Aboriginal Sites Work to be included as a board endorsed course for students in Years 11 and 12 to undertake as part of their High School Certificate.
Currently, students who undertake the certificate in Aboriginal Sites Work can have the course go towards their higher education if their school allows them to use it as part of foundational skills.
A board endorsement of the certificate will allow students to easily apply it to their HSC or have it offered as a traineeship on the job.
Mrs Seager is hopeful that the certificate will be endorsed.
"That's my commitment before I retire in a couple of years and I'm determined to see this last project through."
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