A PROUD young Awabakal man and leader at Our Lady of Lourdes in Tarro, Lawson Griffin is "taking Indigenous identity to another level" according to his principal.
"Lawson is an extraordinary young man whose culture is so important to him," school principal Cheryl Henderson said.
"He shares this with everyone else in the school in the most humble and powerful way."
In November last year, Lawson was asked to deliver the Welcome to Country at Bishop William "Bill" Wright's funeral held in Hamilton. Having addressed the school earlier that day - in a bid to become part of the leadership team - Lawson said he was "pretty nervous" to speak at the funeral but, in his true, humble form, said "I think I did okay".
"It's important to me and makes me feel proud of my culture," he said.
Showing the Newcastle Herald plants in the school's native bush food garden, Lawson described what a connection to culture and a connection to country mean to him.
"This one is Lemon Myrtle so you can use it in a lot of drinks and food," he said.
"My favourite is the Lilly Pilly. The berries are really sweet and I would say they are the best fruit.
"It feels special to have this connection to country and a connection to eagles flying over me."
Rising above the garden atop a timber pole, is the statue of an "eagle-hawk".
"The eagle is my totem as an Awabakal person," Lawson said.
"I need to protect the totem and in return it protects me."
Belinda Huntriss is the Aboriginal Education Teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes. Along with welfare and cultural work at the school, Ms Huntriss teaches Aboriginal Perspectives classes.
"I teach that lesson to every class once a week," Ms Huntriss said.
"It's helpful having an authentic Aboriginal voice in the classroom to give the students that first-hand knowledge they wouldn't otherwise be getting.
"I can't think of one student in the entire school that doesn't want to learn about Aboriginal culture."
Ms Huntriss said Lawson is one of her "go-to people" when it comes to educating and engaging other students.
"Especially with me being from off-country and from a different mob it's good to have Lawson to give that local perspective," she said.
"Lawson is a really good yidaki (didgeridoo) player so having him as one of the leaders of our cultural group to encourage the younger ones is amazing."
Standing alongside Lawson, Ms Huntriss said initiatives like the native food garden and the school's Culture Yarns program - which sees Indigenous and non-Indigenous students hearing from local cultural figures - are an important way to teach Aboriginal culture and introduce new ways of learning in schools.
"A big part of our culture is connecting to country. So it's about being able to get the other teachers involved and to show that Aboriginal pedagogies like learning on country are beneficial for all kids," she said.
Along with his role as a cultural mentor to younger students, Lawson was successful in becoming part of the school's leadership team.
Rather than having school captains, at Our Lady of Lourdes all students vote on a group of representatives - giving everyone a chance at leadership.
"In this school all of year six are considered leaders and all get badges of leadership at the beginning of the year," school principal Cheryl Henderson said.
"At the end of the term prior to them entering year six the children give speeches to the whole school and then they all vote for a leadership team."
As one of the 10 students from year six chosen to lead, Lawson is tasked with roles like running assembly, representing the school, raising the flags and assisting with events.
"We help each other out and we work together as a team instead of trying to do things separately," he said.
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