BSSC Year 12 student, Sol Musk, could never have imagined the journey her creative writing piece would take her on.
Sol is passionate about lots of things—music, sport, philosophy, climate change, politics and, in particular, the heritage she shares with Aboriginal Australians.
She is also a gifted writer.
A story written for her English Literature requirements, ‘My Mother Wanda’, was recently named a winner in the Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers.
But Sol says the story didn’t come easily.
“It was hard to snap out of the academic writing required in my other VCE subjects and into the imaginative mindset this kind of creativity requires,” she says.
Storytelling has long been an integral part of Aboriginal culture and ‘My Mother Wanda’ sees Sol participating in a tradition at the heart of Country.
The story imagines a Wallaby telling her joey about the history and significance of the ancient Djab Wurrung birthing trees that continue to be the focus of intense conflict between local Indigenous people and the Victorian State Government, who want to construct a highway through the area.
While winning the award was very satisfying, ‘My Mother Wanda’ also enriched Sol’s own growing appreciation for her links, through her father, to the Gundungurra Aboriginal people whose Country is the mountains around what many Australians know as Goulburn, NSW.
“For a long time my Indigenous heritage meant little other than a tick box,” Sol admits. “But as I’ve grown older, and especially after I took part in Australia Day protests, I’ve grasped more clearly what it means to be Indigenous in Australia.
“People feed me the line that so many Aboriginal people have to endure. ‘You don’t look Aboriginal, you’re too white’. But Mum pointed out that if you take a black coffee and add milk, it’s still a cup of coffee. No matter how much milk you add, it’s still coffee.”
Another important step was using her Year 11 subject, Extended Investigation, to research wider community understanding of commonly-used Aboriginal symbols, such as the boomerang, Torres Strait Islander flag and the digeridoo.
Sol discovered many people are unaware of the difference between a Welcome to Country and an Acknowledgement of Country.
It was through the Extended Investigation project and media reports she became aware of the huge effort by Djab Wurrung people to save the trees. There have been protesters at the site for over two years.
“It makes me so sad and angry that cutting down these trees has to be a wake-up call,” she says. “In a single day, the Directions Tree was just gone! “Why can’t we bend for a tree?”
Sol contrasts the destruction of the trees to last year’s fire in the 800-year-old French Notre Dame cathedral.
“People are donating huge amounts to Notre Dame’s restoration,” she points out, “but equally significant cultural and religious sites here in Australia, that can be tens of thousands of years old and of significance to countless generations, can be bulldozed, blown up or have a highway run through them.”
It was partly BSSC’s active and respectful recognition of Indigenous Australians and other minority groups that attracted Sol to the college.
“There’s nothing here I would want to change,” she says. “BSSC has such a wide subject choice and is such a relaxed environment.”
Sol is studying English Literature, French, Philosophy and Classical Studies.
“I love all my teachers and being on a first-name basis makes it 100 per cent easier to approach them,” she says. “I think the subtle effect is to make the relationship friendlier from the start.”
Sol has always enjoyed school, but at BSSC she’s appreciated the freedom to follow her own study style.
“I perform better with self-directed learning,” she says.
It’s meant she has coped very well with remote learning.
The pandemic also saw Sol (unable to play footy or work at her part-time job) master the art of roller skating!
However, she greatly missed face to face contact with her friends and “those enjoyable conversations with teachers that enhance learning so much”.
“Still, I think Dan Andrews was the voice of the health experts and did the right thing for Victorians—even though I am angry at his failure to do more to save the Djab Wurrung trees,” Sol says.
Now, with the end of VCE on the horizon, Sol’s hot study tip is to set achievable goals and make them tiny so you always feel like you’re getting somewhere.
She’ll be applying for an Arts/Law pathway and wonders if she may, someday, become an advocate for Indigenous voices which are so often dismissed.
It’s unsurprising that Sol admires people with a social justice focus.
One is a young Indigenous artist and activist named Aretha Brown who is trying to influence the education system, challenging the way Indigenous history is taught.
“We need to listen to people who know,” Sol insists.
Asked what advice she would give her 12-year-old self if she could go back in time, Sol says she would offer reassurance.
“I suffered from crippling self-doubt at times,” she recalls. “It would’ve been great to know ‘it’s all going to be alright’ and to remind myself that I have lots of people around me who love me—that’s really important.”
As the future unfolds, Sol also plans to keep writing… words that reflect her ideas about society and things she is passionate about.”
You can read Sol’s incredibly moving story at: https://expressmedia.org.au/…/the-2020-hachette…/
Or hear her read it from 17:10 minute mark at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lskLezVtmPc