A Journey of Friendship and Learning

My heart is full.

A group of twelve Year 9 students and five staff members from St Mark's recently undertook a remarkable 1600km road trip to Parnngurr, a remote indigenous settlement in the East Pilbara desert country. This trip marked the third year of the growing relationship between St Mark's and the Parnngurr Community School, fostering a unique cultural exchange that has proven to be profoundly impactful for all involved.

Parnngurr, located 370km east of Newman in Western Australia's Pilbara region, is home to the Martu people. Their vast lands span significant portions of the Little and Great Sandy Desert, including the Karlamilyi National Park. This journey provided an extraordinary opportunity for St Mark's students and staff to immerse themselves in the rich culture of the Martu people and form lifelong friendships.

During their week-long stay, the students and staff engaged in a variety of activities that deepened their understanding of Martu culture. They learned from Community Elders and local rangers, experiencing three days 'on country' with Parnngurr students. This immersive experience allowed both groups to connect on a profound level, fostering respect, empathy, and mutual curiosity.

Each year, the bond between St Mark's and the Parnngurr community grows stronger and more special, and the impact of the trip on the students and staff from St Mark's has been profound. Many describe it as a life-changing experience, one that not only broadened their cultural horizons but also left them with wonderful memories and unique friendships. The lessons learned, and connections made during this journey will undoubtedly shape the perspectives and values of these young individuals for years to come.

As St Mark's continues to nurture this important relationship with the Parnngurr Community School, the hope is that both communities will continue to benefit from these enriching cultural exchanges. The shared experiences and deepening friendships serve as a testament to the power of mutual respect and understanding, paving the way for a more inclusive and empathetic future.

View the Parnngurr Snapshot here.

Student and Staff Reflections

Sophie Copestake:

It would be impossible to sum up the enormity of this experience in one paragraph. But there are a few utmost highlights about the fantastic trip to Parnngurr Community School. Despite being a long drive, seeing such a different landscape- one of red dirt and shrubbery, was striking compared to the cities we were used to. Nervous was definitely the word to describe it once we arrived there, but after accidentally burning the garlic bread for dinner and getting a good sleep, we met the kids. Meeting the kids of Parnngurr School was like meeting long-lost friends. Through games of basketball, volleyball and hide and seek we became even closer, getting fooled by their magic tricks and entranced by their extensive knowledge of the land. We learnt how to dig for bush onions, how to find witchety grubs, how to find tracks of every animal imaginable out there. We were told stories around the fire by the elders, toasting marshmallows and enjoying the damper we were taught to cook. We became more musically talented as well- learning the cha-cha and doing karaoke, bonding with the students. Fire lighting was a very unexpected but phenomenal thing we got to do; controlled burning of the bushes near our campsite. Being out on country was incredible and eye-opening, to the hidden uses the land held, and the excitement the kids had when teaching us about their culture was so heartwarming. We were taken to a special place of theirs, near a giant water hole called Wandili. It took us five hours of driving along a very narrow path to get there, but it was definitely worth it. Tasting kangaroo meat, a lizard and cooked bush onions was a fun experience, and seeing dingoes around our camp at night was a little scary but overall thrilling. After sorrowfully leaving the country, we travelled back to the very significant Parnngurr Community School to celebrate the joining of our cultures and the amazing experiences we had before we left. An exchange of meaningful gifts was a highlight. We had one last game of basketball; the two schools clashed, and Parnngurr came out victorious. We left with many tears, sad to be leaving the kids that we had made lifelong friends within such a short time. What we learnt at Parnngurr Community School will stay with us for the rest of our lives. The experiences are so valuable and eye-opening to another culture, surrounded by kindness, fun, and generosity.

Kai Melbourne:

Parnngurr was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to which I was incredibly grateful to be invited. I had made new bonds with my peers, some of which I now consider some of my closest friends, who knew spending a week with the same people 24/7 would lead you to becoming great friends together! We bonded over many things as small as showing photos of our pets to sharing secrets, you never know what to expect. The bus rides were long but you will always find ways to pass the time, such as listening to music together (Thank you, Mr Teo for the amazing playlist), singing karaoke (be warned, you might not be as good as you think you are) staring out the window, or sleeping, we did LOTS of sleeping. You may find the rides a bit of a struggle, but the moment our bus rolled over the hill towards Parnngurr, and we saw the glowing light of the school, it was pure joy from then onwards. Dinner meals were always amazing, with you eating things you would never think you would eat before, kangaroo tail, honey ants, goanna, and burnt garlic bread tasted surprisingly good, too. Hunting for witchetty grubs was an absolute workout cutting down the trees and fishing out the grubs, and cooking the kangaroo tail was an experience I would not forget, I felt like I was using a primitive barbeque. Mr Murphy walked me through all the steps of how to prepare and cook the kangaroo tail while having great chats about school and footy. Mr Murphy was an amazing bloke who loved telling stories about his youth, if you haven’t heard already, he could supposedly shoot a kangaroo himself and the kangaroo was moving. You never know who you will meet out there, and I am super grateful to have met the kids from the first day we went into the school to play basketball with them. At any chance, they had taken us on a new adventure with them to show us or teach us something cool. And every night, we would sit around the fire cracking jokes, kicking the footy or going on a mission to find firewood. You don’t begin to realise how much you got attached to them until you realise it’s the last time you get to see them, so it makes you realise how lucky you were to have made such amazing memories with them, so when you go to set up your camp on the first night on country, sleep well because you're going to have a massive day ahead of you with many amazing adventures. Sleeping was like a roller coaster; one day, you get a solid 8 hours of sleep, and the next day, you wake up at 12pm with the person sleeping next to you trying to cuddle up to you in their sleep… Waking up was always exciting as you had a new adventure awaiting for you the next day, walking to the lake to create rafts with all the kids and adults is only a start to the day, as we then went to create a masterpiece of art that rivalled Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, only for us to turn up the heat later in the day by playing with fire. Literally! Doing burn-offs was something that I was expecting to do, but I sure am happy that we did because we all had fun running around with the kids, causing pure havoc. As nighttime rolled around, we weren’t alone. With dingoes lurking nearby and a couple even appearing, meaning we had to go to the toilet in groups of three, that sure made for some interesting stories. When we got back to Parnngurr on the final night in the community, we prepared and cooked a feast fit for a king as a thank you/goodbye from us. We all sat around the screen as we ate dinner, watching the photos taken at camp. We gave each other our gifts and said our final goodbyes. It truly was a sad night filled with tears and 2-minute noodles. Only to be woken up the next morning at 5am by Mr Teo's choice of song, ‘Walking on Sunshine’, that sure put us in a good mood for the rest of the day… I’ve learnt so much about myself on this camp, as you were able to be yourself around others without fear of judgement. You aren’t worried about how you look or you aren’t worried about impressing other people, I feel that this is something everyone should do. You learn so much about yourself and others just from being who you are without worrying what others think of you. You learn to enjoy the little things in nature around you just from staring out the window or looking up at the stars, and you learn to be grateful for the time that you get to spend with others. All while making memories that you won't ever forget.

Mr Davies:

It was a privilege to be warmly welcomed into the Parnngurr community. The students from both schools made an instant connection, with a basketball game at the beginning of our visit providing the perfect way to get relationships started. After that, there were many moments that forged and strengthened friendships between the children, and between the adults, and the relationship between our schools. We appreciated and valued the time committed by the senior members of the community, including Mr Jimmy Williams, to be with us.

During our time on country and around the School, the students, Martu people and school staff made us so welcome. Their generosity in proudly showing us how they live with the land, and its flora and fauna, was extraordinary. The mutual respect between the Parnngurr community and we visitors to the community was palpable. I was humbled by the trust in us shown by the Martu people, taking us on country to Mr Williams’ Mother’s country, a special place for them, and now for us. The Martu people are experts in their own country, and we marvelled at their knowledge, expertise and mastery of their environment. For me, it was a transformational experience to be amongst the Martu people on their own land.

The School is central to the Parnngurr community and to their hopes for their children’s future, and the children are proud of their achievements. I hope that Parnngurr Community School and St Mark’s continue to have this special relationship long into the future. The students and staff of both schools are sure of the positive benefits for all who have the opportunity to be involved.

Mr Teo:

Special is what comes to mind when I reflect back on the 2024 Parnngurr Tour experience.

From learning about animal tracking to lighting (controlled) fires to damper making, to cooking kangaroo tails and hunting for witchery grubs and goannas, the opportunities we were given to learn about a different way of life in what seemed like a different part of the world (though it was only 20hrs away by car), was indeed something extraordinary. What I really treasured this time around was the opportunity to see familiar faces that were just brimming with joy. To be embraced so warmly by Principal Prem and his wife Jen, his staff and those who live in the community we met last year, was truly special. Getting to see and share this experience with Mr ‘Gun’ Jimmy Williams again, and his family, which included Big Murph and Murph Jnr and their respective families, was just brilliant. It felt at times like old friends (not literally) just catching up and hanging out. It felt surreal and just right. I really appreciated their openness and hospitality, their willingness to teach us and give time to us, and how they loved us and welcomed us unconditionally. It really was something special.

To have had the privilege to travel back to Parnngurr with 12 new students from St Mark’s and five other staff is something I do not take for granted. An experience that I am sad to have left behind, but excited to be able to share with others ahead. To share about the Martu people who call Parnngurr home, and who so genuinely welcomed us onto their lands. I am thankful to God for the entire tour, for all that happened and didn’t happen (phew), for those we got to meet and share this experience with, and in the words of Mr Jimmy Williams himself, “my heart is full”.

Mrs Parsons:

Parnngurr … a place of stunning landscapes and inspiring people.

I have been lucky enough to have attended the Parnngurr tour for three years in a row, and I hope I can attend for many more years to come. The relationships built and the trust gained from our trips has been cup filling to say the least! The staff of Parnngurr School and the local community members welcome us with open arms giving us an opportunity to see our students play, learn and grow.