The whole College gathered in the Doyle Centre on Tuesday 9 May for our annual National Reconciliation Week assembly. The theme for National Reconciliation Week in 2023 is ‘Be a Voice For Generations’ and our student voice was heard loud and clear during the assembly.

Our community welcomed representatives from The Long Walk Foundation, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), St Patrick’s Primary School and our guest speaker, Ms Courtney Ugle.

Principal Mr Philip Morison opened proceedings with a short history of some of the issues that have impacted on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia over time. Mr Morison reminded the audience of the importance of living out our Mercy values and also delivered a heartfelt pledge of support from the entire Mount Lilydale Mercy College community for First Nations people moving forward.

The Principal’s address was followed by a special Acknowledgement of Country. Our First Nations students drafted and recorded their own Acknowledgement of Country, which included some beautiful Woiwurrung-Wurundjeri language phrases.

Performing Arts Prefect Vivienne Mackenzie delivered a report about the recent Year 12 Student Leadership Day run by The Long Walk at ‘The Hangar’ (headquarters of Essendon Football Club). In a public demonstration of their solidarity, our student leaders voluntarily stood behind her as she spoke to the goals of The Long Walk Foundation. Vivienne addressed the challenges faced by Indigenous Australians and how each member of our community can be authentic in their support.

Courtney, our keynote speaker, is co-captain of the Essendon VFLW team. She delivered a speech that will live long in the memory of those attending. She spoke of her upbringing in Bunbury, south of Perth, and the challenges she faced were profound. Courtney lost her father when she was 12 and became an orphan at age 19 when her mother was murdered.

As Courtney explained that her life could very easily descended into one of self-pity but, inspired by the example of her brother Kirk Ugle, who had played in the AFL for Collingwood, she decided to throw herself into life by being positive and upbeat. She described herself as “a glass half-full type of girl”. In addition to her VFLW career, Courtney shared how she works at an organisation called ‘Djirra’ which helps support female Aboriginals who are experiencing hardship and the horrors of domestic violence; something Courtney lived through herself as a child.

After speaking, Courtney was interviewed by our College Captains Elena Atanasovski and Campbell Manser and she was able to provide more information about resilience and having a positive attitude to the challenges that life throws up. Courtney shared a beautiful quote from her mother which touched many hearts: “Just when you think things might be falling apart, they could just be falling into place”.

The assembly was punctuated and enhanced by the prayerful support of a number of our Year 12 Ministry students and our College Choir who sang two songs — a Yorta Yorta song called Ngarra Burra Ferra and Paul Kelly’s timeless From Little Things, Big Things Grow, a song about the struggle for land justice by Indigenous legend Vincent Lingiari.

The following are some reflections from Year 7 students who attended the assembly:

I learnt that when you're having a hard time in life, you should ask for help and keep pushing through.

From today, I will call people out when they're discriminating towards the First Nations people, or anyone for that matter. I will try to support some charities as well.

Courtney was inspiring and resilient. When bad things happened she was sad but she pushed through and became a great person who helped other people.

Courtney was great because she has gone through a lot and her speech was inspirational. I left with this quote ‘Just when you think things are falling apart, they could just be falling into place!’ In the future, I will remember that when I think things are going upside down, they may not be.

I thought that Courtney was awesome because she spoke very clearly and sounded confident. It was a very inspiring speech and I really enjoyed it. In the future I will definitely use her speech as inspiration and a reason to work harder.

Today in assembly I learnt a lot about Courtney’s life and all the hardships she had to go through to get where she is now. From today, I will make sure I don't complain about the things in my life that I don't have, but be grateful for the things I do have.

Courtney was excellent because she taught us that it is best to look on the good side of life and that even when things get really bad or it's just a bad moment there's always a positive side. She also explained that everything is a choice and it's up to you on which path you take. A quote from her is ‘When things seem to be falling apart they may actually be falling into place’. She lives by this and has it tattooed on her shoulder. From today, the first thing I will be doing is looking on the positive side of things. I will also look into The Long Walk and spread the word about it.

Today in assembly I learnt the many despairing struggles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders face every day. Courtney was outstanding because she showed a great amount of resilience throughout her childhood. From today I will do my best to donate to Aboriginal organisations and help spread awareness about the Stolen Generation and equality among everyone.

Courtney was excellent because she had an amazing story that would have been really hard for her to talk about, but she was able to relate it to our lives and make us think about how important our lives can be if we do something with them. She also taught us to take advantage of problems or difficult times and get going again and push even harder for our goals are dreams. From today I will not let past memories and hardships get in my way, and begin pushing harder for my dreams.