Leann Wilson leads Principals on a five-day ‘Women Yarning Up’ tour to the Torres Strait Islands

RES Director and Bond University Fellow, Leann Wilson, recently led a delegation of Principals from some of Australia’s most progressive girls’ schools on a five-day ‘Women Yarning Up’ tour to the Torres Strait Islands.

The VIP group comprised Principals from Santa Sabina College and Wenona in Sydney, Melbourne Girls’ College, Mary MacKillop College in Adelaide, Lockhart State School in far north Queensland and St Patrick’s College Townsville which has a significant enrolment of Indigenous girls from remote communities like the Torres Strait Islands.

They were joined by former Brisbane Lord Mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, Chair of the Queensland Indigenous Education Consultative Committee Leon Epong, and Bond University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Pathways and Partnerships, Catherine O’Sullivan.

Their five-day itinerary included visits to Tagai State College’s primary campus on Mer (Murray)  Island, the secondary campus on Waiben (Thursday) Island, an official reception with various education and government representatives and numerous informal meetings with community Elders, leaders and parents.

“My role was to give our non Indigenous participants a cultural context and an insight into the challenges faced by women in remote Indigenous communities,” said Leann.

“More importantly, having an Indigenous representative leading a group like this helps to broker the relationship with the community, helping the participants to engage in a deeper conversation with the people they meet.

“Because it is only by getting to that deeper conversation that we can find the way to working collaboratively to address the core issues.”

The annual Women Yarning Up tour is a cultural and educational initiative organised by Bond University’s Pathways and Partnerships team in conjunction with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia which represents almost 150 girls’ schools in Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa.

Leann Wilson led the inaugural trip in 2014 to Lockhart River in far north Queensland and returned to the leadership role in 2015.

“The whole idea of ‘women yarning up’ is such a powerful concept,” she said.

“It’s really exciting that these non Indigenous women who hold key leadership positions in our education system are so keen to travel all this way to listen to the Indigenous women.

“At the heart of it, we are all mothers, we are all carers, so we can quickly connect at that point of sameness and work from there.

“What’s also powerful is that these Principals have such a wealth of knowledge and experience in their field and the Torres Strait Islander women are passionate about education for their children, so it becomes a really valuable two-way conversation.”

For Leann and all the participants, one of the most moving moments of the trip was listening to a young Murray Island mother talk about her aspirations for her daughter.

“The analogy she gave was that she wanted her child to have the confidence to walk up to the Qantas counter and ask about her flight home, rather than standing at the back afraid to come forward.

“Her story moved me to tears as I thought, ‘Surely we can achieve that?’”