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Q&A with MaMu woman, Christian and WestMAC Learning Innovator – Indigenous Perspectives, Phyllis Marsh

Spotlight Q&A

Meet Phyllis Marsh from West Moreton Anglican College and find out about her current projects, her thoughts on this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme and on “Being Together: Embracing Joy”, her go-to karaoke song and what she would write on a billboard

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How long have you been working at WestMAC and in what roles?

I have been at West Moreton Anglican College (WestMAC) on Yugara Country for four wonderful years. Prior to my move I was working in a private training organisation as their National Manager. They made the heartbreaking decision to downsize, which clearly was the best thing ever as it opened the door to WestMAC where I am employed as Learning Innovator – Indigenous Perspectives.

WestMAC's Phyllis Marsh and Janelle Lecinski

WestMAC’s Phyllis Marsh and Janelle Lecinski at a school International Women’s Day event in March 2021

How does your role contribute to the Church’s mission?

The “Dandiiri Approach” is the way WestMAC works within Indigenous education. It is strategically designed and created to work alongside and is infused with the Anglican Communion Marks of Mission and Anglican Schools Commission ethos. This is the strong foundation from which we springboard. Dandiiri is the Yugara word for “together”.

I am from the MaMu Nation and the Mandubarra clan on the South Johnstone River in Innisfail. After I was offered the role by principal Geoff McLay, I still walked through the grounds of the school, which is on Yugara Country and therefore not my Country, to seek permission from the ancestors to teach First Nations history on their Country. Since commencing in the role, I have learnt about the history and culture of the Yugara People so I can pass this knowledge on to students and staff.

Phyllis Marsh as a child with mother and sister

“I am from the MaMu Nation and the Mandubarra clan on the South Johnstone River in Innisfail” (Phyllis Marsh is pictured with her mother Niree Appoo and her sister Nancy Appoo at a wedding in Innisfail in 1970)

What projects and activities are you currently working on?

The one current area of focus bringing me great joy is creating a space for our First Nations students to participate in showcasing who they are in what we have affectionately referred to as our “WestMAC NAIDOC Experience”. This is a display about how they connect with this year’s NAIDOC Week theme Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! 

What are your plans and goals for the next 12 months?

In terms of work, I will continue to roll out the “Dandiiri Approach”. The current phase is focusing on Ngahmbilli, which is the Yugara word for “everyone”. This phase is being rolled out over four areas of the school curriculum in a transformative approach of cultural change.

I am also currently enrolled in a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Education. I am hoping to pair this with another graduate certificate so I can complete a Master of Education.

What has been one of the best memories of your time at WestMAC so far?

In a single day I can have many highlights, so this is a really difficult question to answer. When I work with the kindy kids, I love seeing their eyes open up in wonder when I teach them about ancient connections. Equally I value the same look of wonder when I yarn with a First Nations student; for example, about how Indigenous Peoples historically have managed their respective ecosystems through their scientific approaches to knowledge.

Phyllis Marsh with WestMAC students

Phyllis Marsh with WestMAC young students in October 2019

2022’s Diocesan theme is “Being Together: Embracing Joy”. What is a practical way that we can celebrate the way differences help to make us whole and the importance of diversity in our unity?

By adopting ancient practices of going out into nature and truly connecting by looking and listening.

Can you tell us a little about your personal faith journey?

My Christian faith is embedded deeply into my way of being, doing and knowing.

What is your favourite scripture and why?

The great commandment Matthew 22.37-39 because it lays out exactly what I need to do to build relationship with God and my neighbour – and that is to love:

“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”

What person of faith inspires you the most and why?

My dearest mentor and friend, a Catholic nun named Sr Eileen Brown. She was a nurturer of my faith.

Why is it important to celebrate National Reconciliation Week?

To simply strengthen relationships. This is beneficial for all.

Phyllis Marsh and Bishop Cam Venables

Phyllis Marsh and Bishop Cam Venables with the Western Region component of the ACSQ’s Reconciliation artwork, which was on display at WestMAC in Term 1 (March 2022)

The theme for this year’s National Reconciliation Week is “Be Brave. Make Change”. What is one way that anglican focus readers can do this? 

Start a conversation that challenges your current cultural standpoint.

Why is it important to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the landmark Mabo High Court decision?

For me, Eddie Mabo is a living example of fearless courage. We all look to be inspired by people who do extraordinary things that leave a legacy on a people who are changed forever. He did that to a whole country.

What do you do in your free time to recharge and relax?

I go to the bush. The bush is where God is for me.

Peter and Phyllis Marsh walking in the bush

Phyllis and Peter Marsh at Mt Coot-tha after a 6km walk in 2019

If you could have a billboard with any text on it, what would it say and why?

My mother’s favourite quote: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” This was said by Quaker missionary Stephen Grellet who lived between 1773 and 1855.

Where do you do your best thinking?

In nature, and especially while watching sunsets. This is a time I call a “change of the guards” between the sun and the moon.

What’s your best childhood memory?

I have two and both involve my father. The first one is bushwalking with my father, walking through the rainforest in tropical North Queensland and seeing it through his eyes. It is a whole new world.

The second is sitting on top of the stairs of my childhood home in Innisfail and appreciating the beauty of a sunset with my father.

In the stillness and beauty of both places, I caught glimpses of God.

What is your karaoke go-to song?

Have you ever seen the Rain?’ by Credence Clearwater Revival.

What book have you given away most as a gift and why?

Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon. It was through this book I truly learned about service.

Phyllis Marsh with book Miracle on the River Kwai

“I read Miracle on the River Kwai by Ernest Gordon when I was in Year 9. It changed my view on what it means to be kind” (Phyllis Marsh at WestMAC in 2022)

If you are having a bad day, what do you do to cheer yourself up?

Talk to God. He really gets me!

Editor’s note: National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is held annually between 27 May and 3 June. This year’s theme is “Be Brave. Make Change.” Visit the Reconciliation Australia website for posters and resources and to register your NRW events. Find out about Diocesan NRW events by visiting the anglican focus ‘Events’ page.  

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