Year 10 Immersion to Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa is a small indigenous community with a rich traditional culture, located about 80kms out of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. In the school holidays, students from St Scholastica’s, Mount St Benedict and St Mary Star of the Sea College, embarked on an amazing journey to immerse into a community that changed our lives. The purpose of going on this trip was to gain perspective on the aboriginal culture and to see the work of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. From the moment we entered, we were in awe. When we arrived, we were shocked by how small the commu nity was, and what shocked and disappointed us even more was that a Cadbury block of chocolate cost $8, and that most of us had no reception!
The church is one of the most common meeting places for the community with a strong Catholic faith kept by most – it is the heart of the community. We had the chance to see the inside of the church and got to experience a home mass at the house of one of the ladies. This mass was held outside the house, with us all sitting on the dirt together, feeling deeply connected with the culture and environment. It was eye opening to see the Catholic religion being practiced in such a different place to what we were used to. This mass was quite the opposite to our school masses, with dirt blowing in our faces throughout and the ants crawling all around our feet. For us, the most touching moment was when the ‘Our Father’ was said. Although there were only about 20 people there, we all felt an unimaginable sense of community and that we belonged to something.
Our time in Santa Teresa was spent helping out in the community. One day we worked in the Community Centre making the meal bags for the day and delivering them on a buggy, and also collecting bags of blankets and clothes that needed to be washed. This experience was very rewarding, as we got to see the whole community and spend time with a beautiful lady called Camilla and her little daughter Ruth. For us, this was one of the highlights of the trip, playing with Ruth and her friends, holding the local baby joey that lives in one of the houses and learning about the intense rivalry between the people who go for the Western Bulldogs and those who go for the Sydney Swans.
We also spent our time helping in the Spirituality Centre which is where the women paint pieces of art to sell. Sr Liz told us before we went that what the people of the community consider the most important time is what we consider as wasted time, meaning that in their culture sitting down and having a good conversation is highly valued. We definitely witnessed this while we were there – the more that we talked and listened to the women, the more we heard about their experiences.
One afternoon we were invited to a traditional smoking ceremony, which was absolutely amazing. The people of the community swear by the healing powers of the traditional healer, Mia. The fact that we were allowed to participate with the community in such a way was a very humbling experience. They were so open and welcoming to us that it reminded us of the community we have here at St Mary’s.
As well as the time we spent in the community, we spent time in Alice Springs doing things like a typical tourist and taking way too many group photos. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take many photos in the Santa Teresa community, which we could very much respect.
On our last day Sister Liz reflected on a question that people often ask her, “Why do you have so many immersion groups come and visit the community?” Sister Liz replied that she wants people to understand the hardships that are faced by Australia’s first people and that if even just one of the hundreds of people who go to Santa Teresa each year, stands up for indigenous Australians when they hear racism and says “That’s not my experience, they are hard workers who are pushing through adversity” then it is worth it.
Our time spent in Santa Teresa was, without sounding too clichéd, life changing. Even in just the short week we spent there, we have gained a whole new perspective and outlook on life. We have experienced what many Australians will never experience and for this we are very grateful.
Nicola Tomlin, Gabriella Downing and Mildred Sin
St Mary Star of the Sea College, Wollongong