Punmu: A Life-Changing Experience

Santa Maria College teachers Olivia Gamble, Sarah Morris and Lucas Francis recently accompanied a group of Year 12 students on the College’s first Punmu Immersion since COVID-19.

Olivia, who coordinated the immersion, has been on the transformative journey to Punmu six times, both with the school and during a personal visit. Having coordinated four of those trips, Olivia cherishes the life-changing experiences this Immersion Program offers. From learning about bush tucker and caring for country, to making strides in closing education and health gaps in remote communities, our students return with a profound appreciation for their privilege and a stronger connection to Indigenous culture.

The Punmu and Kunawarritji schools also benefit from the program, as our students and staff actively support them through cleaning, painting, cooking, and more. The helping hand leaves a positive impact on the schools. The program’s influence is evident as many of our past students have pursued careers focused on supporting Indigenous communities.

The highlight for Olivia, this time, was witnessing the interaction between our girls and the local students. Having the chance to assist in the classrooms, the girls showed great enthusiasm and leadership, creating heart-warming moments of connection.

For our students, the program fosters a deeper understanding of privilege and a stronger desire to learn about our First Nations culture. Experiencing sacred sites with a history spanning 60,000 years left an indelible mark on them.

Students reflect on their time at Punmu

My Punmu Immersion experience was eye-opening and life-changing. Throughout my interactions with the Martu children and elders, I learned more about the Aboriginal lifestyle and culture. I am very grateful to have built relationships with many friendly and generous Martu people who were proud and eager to teach us about their land and culture. The Dreamtime stories they shared with us made me aware of the strong history and extensive knowledge of the Martu community. We learned some Martu language, visited waterholes, tried native food, and were taught how to weave by the Martu women. These opportunities have made me better understand the Aboriginal connection to country and the importance of preserving Aboriginal traditions. These first-hand experiences have allowed me to grow my respect and understanding of Aboriginal people.  Bronte McGoldrick

I spent an amazing night sharing a campsite under the stars with local community members at Well 33 in Kunawarritji, which was a beautiful and peaceful place. This unforgettable night will remain with me always. It has given me a special and unique opportunity to be a part of the Martu traditional culture. I enjoyed sitting around the campfire with the community hearing their stories, and learning about their connection to land. This experience has given me a new perspective on what is important in life and has had a massive impact on my attitude towards Aboriginal communities, as I have gained so much knowledge about their culture. Ava Bennier

The community was so open to our help and welcomed us without reservation, sharing language and stories with us. I felt so privileged that they showed us some of their sacred and significant places and shared Dreaming stories. I learned more about the Martu people in one week than I ever have about Whadjuk Noongar. The Martu people’s way of living differs from what I expected, and their sense of community and family is so powerful. I now realise the importance of preserving not just the language and Dreaming stories of Indigenous Australians but the way they approach life and their attitudes on so many issues. Kate Creasy

During our visit to Kunawarritji, I had a memorable experience with a young girl named Ashka from the local community. While I was reading some books with a child, I noticed another shy child away from the group who kept looking at us. Later, I went up to her and started talking to her, which ended in her asking me to give her a piggyback ride to the playground. There, we played, she drew and wrote her name on my hand, and we read some books. As I was holding Ashka during our camp briefing, she would not let me put her down. Instead, she played with my braids and necklace and counted my freckles. Later that night at camp, as soon as she saw me, she came up to me and sat in my lap to draw. At that time, I was making damper with some of the other Santa Maria girls, and when they asked her questions, she would not answer. Instead, I had to ask her, and she would whisper her response in my ear. Throughout the night, she refused to reveal her name to the others, only confiding in me. The next day we drove back to Kunawarritji school, saying an emotional goodbye, and she waved goodbye. This interaction with Ashka was truly unforgettable and has made a lasting impact on me as an individual. The fact that she trusted me so soon after meeting me to tell me her name and the way that she bonded with me and trusted me so quickly is something that I will never forget and will hold very close to my heart. Kaylee Benson

An unforgettable moment I had over the immersion trip was an interaction with one of the girls in Kunawarritji. On the night of our campout at Well 33, I was holding a little girl from the Kunawarritji Community. Whilst holding her, she was telling me about the Well and the stars. Within around 10 minutes of me holding her, she fell asleep with her head tucked into my neck and her arms wrapped around me. I stood with her in my arms for 30 minutes by the fire, rocking her back and forth. While I was holding her, I ended up shedding a few tears because of how loved she made me feel. I was thinking about how I was able to make her feel comfortable enough to fall asleep on me. I had only met her earlier that day, but the connection was there instantly. This moment had a lasting impact on me for the rest of the trip and afterwards because it taught me how important it is for the kids to feel comfortable around people and family. As I was holding her, Kuru gave me the biggest smile, which melted my heart even more. Elle McGowan

An unforgettable moment with the Punmu community, which will have a lasting impact on me, was the pizza and disco night that we hosted at the school. Community members chose toppings for their pizza, which we then cooked in the pizza oven we had repaired earlier in the week. It was a great point in our immersion experience as it highlighted the strong connections we had made whilst learning about and serving the Punmu community. It was great to see the happiness of the community as they came together for a meal, fun, and music. Adele Carrick

On the last night at Punmu, we held a pizza night and disco with the community. I was sitting around the fire with some of the girls and some members of the community, where we were exchanging stories from home and talking. We ended up learning some songs and sang them around the fire with one of the elders. It was such a special moment that not many people would experience, and I still cherish it to this day. Paige Lobwein 

An unforgettable moment that’s had a lasting impact on me was watching the sunset over the sand dunes at Kunawarritji, near Well 33. Gibbon, an elder in the community, was showing a small group of us an old rock map of Australia that had been there for thousands of years. My mind was absolutely blown by learning about the amount of knowledge the Martu people have that has been passed down through thousands of generations. The serenity of the landscape was something that cannot be put into words. The colours of the sky as the sun was setting over this historical piece of their culture, made me feel an overwhelming sense of peace. I remember feeling so incredibly lucky to be included in learning part of their culture and to feel welcomed to such a special place. This has had a lasting impact on me, as it really demonstrated how special the connection is between the Martu people and their land. It encouraged me to appreciate even more the amazing experience and opportunity that I had been provided with. It has had a lasting impact on me through the powerful sense of calmness and contentment that I experienced during this moment. This is something that is unexplainable, and it was one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever experienced. 
Hannah Carmody

Looking back on my experience in Punmu, one of the main values I took away was that it’s not materialistic goods and social status that are important, but rather having strong connections with the people and land. The Martu way of life is to have a strong sense of identity and strong relationships with family and the community. Being my first time going to Punmu, I had no idea what to expect. I was shocked by what I saw. The state of their houses and living conditions was beyond my imagination. Yet, when I sat down and talked to the tight-knit Martu community, they were at ease. They did not stress that they were living in sheds built too long ago or the fact that they do not have rights to renovate. Rather, they are happy and relaxed. It shocked me a little, I had to take a step back as to why they were all so happy and present when they live like this. As the days went on, I built an understanding that it is not the things they have or the house they live in. It’s the connection between people and land. One experience that stands out to me is when I was out collecting firewood, one of the Martu men took me up to the top of a hill, and the most beautiful sunset covered the land in orange. “This is my land, our land,” he said and pointed to the horizon. I could not believe my eyes. No matter how far I looked, there was this beautiful bushland. My emotions got the best of me, and I shed a few tears. I felt at peace. It was the first time I felt such a strong connection. This impacted my beliefs of having to keep up with the new tech and new materialistic goods or the latest on TikTok. It allowed me to open my eyes to what really is important to me, and at this age, I think knowing these values is very uncommon. Grace Foster

Throughout our time in Punmu, I found playing with the kids the most memorable experience. Everyone got so involved in taking part in games of footy and basketball together, and they were so amazing and talented. Also, coming to school and seeing how excited all the kids were when we came in each day was so touching, as we felt so valued being there for them. This was so memorable to me as seeing their appreciation made us feel like we were making a positive impact on their day. Sophie Farrell 

The Punmu immersion was an experience that taught me so much in such a short amount of time. Something that really influenced my values was hearing the saying, ‘It’s Martu time,’ meaning they do not stress or worry about the little things. They do not let feelings of stress and pressure push them away from their identities, families, and the connections they have to their land. On our last day in Punmu, we climbed Punmu Yapu hill to watch the sunset. Many people from the community came with us, and it was then that I was able to truly understand what they mean by ‘it’s Martu time’. We stayed up there and watched as the sun started to set, and nothing else mattered. I felt so connected to the people I was with and the land, having been told the stories and understanding why it is so important to the Martu people. The Punmu immersion trip is something I will never forget, and I will continue to try to live out all the things that I learned during my time there. Amy Oaten

The immersion in Punmu taught me the value of community and the power of human connection. Seeing the strong bonds between the people in the community, particularly the close-knit relationships among the children, teachers, and other community members, reaffirmed my belief in the significance of family and support networks. Witnessing the way they supported and cared for each other, I realised that family extends beyond blood relations and can encompass an entire community. It taught me the importance of being there for others and having a support system to lean on during challenging times. The immersion also provided me with a deep understanding of the connection to land. Visiting the waterholes and hearing the Dreamtime stories and history of the Martu people helped me appreciate the profound relationship they have with their land. It made me reflect on the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle prevalent in cities like Perth and reconsider what I deem important. Tessa Pickett

What A Term! So Many Opportunities – Jennifer Oaten

As I look back on the past nine weeks, I am so grateful for who we are as a community and what we have achieved. Through the dedication of our staff and the enthusiasm of our students, we have established new connections, immersed ourselves in opportunities and worked through challenges.

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