Punmu Returns: Reflecting Back

First visit to Punmu 2007

We are thrilled to announce that the Punmu Immersion program is making a comeback this year, following its postponement in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic. Once again, students will have the opportunity to travel to the Pilbara region and work closely with the Punmu community.

Originally established as part of the College Service Program in 2007, the inaugural trip comprised of 12 Year 11 students and three staff members embarking on a 650 km journey from Port Hedland, across the Great Sandy Desert to Punmu.

The 2023 program is scheduled to take place from 17th to 25th June, and this time, 12 Year 12 students will get to be part of this life-changing experience.

Coordinator Olivia Gamble far right with students in 2019

Staff member Olivia Gamble, who has visited Punmu five times and served as the coordinator since 2018, expressed her excitement, saying, “I can’t wait to continue our connection with this incredible community and return to the desert in June.”

To gain more insights into the program’s impact, we reached out to some former students and a staff member who participated in the initial Punmu Immersion and asked them to share their experiences.

Loretta Wholley, Santa Maria Staff member from 2002-2008 and currently Principal at Genazzano FCJ College, Melbourne, coordinated the project in the beginning and was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. She reflects on her experience.

“It is hard to believe as I write this reflection that 16 years have passed since I first organised and travelled to Rawa school in Punmu. I was the Director of Religious Formation at the time. We were invited to Rawa school by past Santa Maria student Lisa Fenton (Melia, 1993), who was teaching up there at the time. She called on us to assist the community with their school and recreational services. We fundraised at the College to raise money to buy all the goods we needed. While there, we were able to help with establishing a horticultural garden. We cleaned and primed their recreation centre (which was four sea containers linked together), assisted with morning sports and meal preparations and helped in the classrooms. We experienced life in the community and stepped out of our comfort zones to learn more every day about the culture of the Martu people.”

Loretta Wholley in 2007

“It was a very special time for me, the two staff members who joined me, and the first group of 12 that embarked on the journey. The artwork that I created at the school hangs in my office with pride and I always look forward to seeing the updates from Santa Maria when you visit.

“We started the project hoping to create a spirit of comradery and joyfulness and continue to pray that a commitment to reconciliation would emerge from the experience. God bless as you reconnect with the community, faithful to the Gospel values of service, compassion and justice.”

Shannon Ziegelaar at Punmu in 2007

“Punmu was a transformational experience for me. An opportunity to connect with people and country in a completely new and deep way. It was the foundation for a journey I am still on – what is my role in walking together into a future we can all be proud of – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, together” Shannon Ziegelaar (2008)

Kim Maslin, second from the right in 2007

It was such a privilege to visit Punmu in 2007. It’s a trip I still think of fondly all these years later. I loved meeting the children, teachers and community members and seeing their passion and zest for life (and for footy and dancing!) Aside from the footy and dancing, highlights included camping, exploring the local area, cook-ups, helping in the classroom and painting. The experience of Punmu enhanced my understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal people and their culture. It sparked a love of education that I have continued to pursue since leaving Santa Maria College.” Kim Maslin (2008)

“Going to Punmu was amazing. Our immersion into the community opened my eyes to Aboriginal culture, traditions, and their respect for the land. I will be forever grateful for the experience.” Susan Hosking, Health & Physical Education Teacher

We’ll report back later this year, after this year’s immersion, with stories from our current students and staff and the impact this experience had on them.

The following video is from the 2019 Immersion Program.


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