Southern Cross graduate bringing Bundjalung culture into the classroom

Published 2 July 2021
Education graduate Eli Cook

It’s not your average music video. The setting is half beach and wild mangroves, half school playground – places where children spend a lot of their time in this corner of the world. The beautifully shot vision shows kids doing backflips off the sand dunes, dancing in the surf and in front of mural art at school, all to a thumping hip hop track sung half in English, half in Bundjalung. It’s titled ‘Our voices being heard’.

The video is the product of One Vision Production and Ballina Public School students, who were mentored in the final stages of production by Southern Cross University Education graduate and Bundjalung language tutor Eli Cook.

Our Voices Being Heard by One Vision Production and Ballina Primary School

 “I was working as an Aboriginal Education Officer at the time. I’d completed a degree in Sport and Exercise Science but had decided to pursue Education, I really felt that was where I could make a difference. The kids were amazing, so creative, so much energy and the lyrics are incredibly touching. It crystalised many things for me – I knew I had made the right choice in choosing a teaching degree.”

Studying online while working full-time, Eli managed to finish his degree and placements during the COVID pandemic and has now begun a permanent role at Goonellabah Primary where he is looking forward to incorporating Bundjalung language and culture into his classroom.

“Traditional education models fail many kids and especially Indigenous kids. I want to explore learning on Country and other options for teaching Indigenous kids to improve outcomes at school and their options for uni after school.

It’s not only how Indigenous kids are taught though. I think there is a lot of room to improve how non-Indigenous students get taught about Indigenous people. Eventually I’d like to work on improving the curriculum in that way too.”

Studying Education at Southern Cross was a formative experience for Eli. “The lecturers weren’t trying to churn out dozens of the same teacher. We were very much encouraged to find our own way which I think is important. You need to bring your own strengths and personality to teaching, to find your own style, and be your own teacher. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else.”

“I bring my culture and language into the classroom, I incorporate stories and songs into teaching maths and other things. The kids really respond to it.”

Eli has lived all his life on Bundjalung country; his clan hails from Ballina in the Northern Rivers of NSW. Last year, he began a public campaign to build a Bundjalung Cultural Centre in the seaside town. “In schools I have seen the cycle of disadvantage and the continual lack of teaching about Indigenous people. A cultural centre would provide programs for schools but would also be a space to grow jobs, cultural tourism and pathways for the community to gain meaningful employment, which I think is at the heart of our ongoing issues,” said Eli.

The project has received a huge response from the community with more than 2,500 signatures for an online petition and support from all sectors. “We need to build the base for a long-term project. That doesn’t happen overnight and may even be something that applies more to my kids’ generation. I’m looking forward to being 80 and sitting back to see the project thriving, linking people and places, looking after the community,” he said.

Learn more about studying Education at Southern Cross University

Media contact: Content Team scumedia@scu.edu.au