Nanima's legacy lives on

Maxwell Smith and Ezekiel Stanley putting the Aboriginal flag on the peppercorn tree which everyone remembered from their school days.
Maxwell Smith and Ezekiel Stanley putting the Aboriginal flag on the peppercorn tree which everyone remembered from their school days.

A school which was the educational centre of Australia's first inland mission and longest continuing reserve is now charting a new course in history.

First established in 1896, the school at Nanima near Wellington will become the Nanima Education and Wellbeing Centre, dedicated to the protection of Aboriginal culture and heritage.

The Local Aboriginal Land Council recently purchased Nanima Primary School (which closed in 2007) from the Department of Education.

More than 250 former students, including elders and leaders of many communities and professions, came back to the place of their childhood memories to pay respect to the legacy Nanima Primary School played in their lives.

The occasion also marked the day the referendum was passed in 1967, including Aboriginal people on the census.

It was a bittersweet moment for many. Councillor of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and former student Stephen Ryan said the Wellington community had experienced a long, frustrating journey to reach this milestone.

"The community and former students were disappointed they had to purchase the site from the NSW Government because they believed it was part of the former reserve at Nanima that the Wellington Local Aboriginal Land Council owns," he said.

CEO of the LALC Leanne Stanley said the journey had been fraught with difficulty and at one stage it looked as though the school might have been bought by people from Sydney.

In the end a grant was secured from the NSW Aboriginal Land Council for the purchase of the building and the removal of asbestos.

"Sometimes we have to bite the bullet to move forward and I believe this is what we are doing," Ms Stanley said.

Former student and chair of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Roy Ah-See said Wellington Local Aboriginal and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council were investing in the long-term future of Nanima.

"For those of us who grew up here and attended the school, today brings back strong memories," he said.

"Nanima Primary School has shaped so many lives and now will continue to leave a lasting legacy.

"None of this shame and guilt that's in our communities. Those days are gone. This is what land rights can deliver for our communities."

As they returned, many people reminisced about the peppercorn tree which they often sat under and spoke about what it meant to see a new future for their former school.

"The school brings back lots of good memories and I wouldn't change any of it," Darcy West, who lives in Sydney said.

"Mr Cahill taught us growing up. Back then he was our Mandela. The things he did for us at school; he got electricity here and the water tanks and the first new houses when he wrote to housing."

"I moved away but I used to always come back and visit."

"The school has finally come home," former student Denise Kelly added.

The historic Nanima school bell will also be returned to take pride of place near the school buildings thanks to principal of Wellington Public School, Denis Anderson who managed to track it down.

Unaware the school was being purchased, he originally started looking for it on behalf of Wellington Public School to preserve its history and when he heard about the LALC's plans for the school he phoned the Land Council with the good news about his recent find.