• Photo taken by Shakayla Dennis from Bourke High School as part of the School Selfie project (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The ‘Back O’ Bourke’ may be enshrined in Aussie slang for its remote location, but its outback life is providing local Aboriginal high school students with a future career in photography and social media.
Yasmin Noone

26 Nov 2015 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 3 Dec 2015 - 3:48 PM

Bourke High School isn't the biggest school on the map, catering for only 160 students, 60 per cent who identify as Aboriginal.

“In Bourke, you’ve got this very isolated community and an isolated group of kids,” explains executive principal, Robert Bourke.“Dubbo is seen as the next ‘big town’ to Bourke and that’s 365 kilometres away!”

It isn’t the most talked about school in the country either, nor is it the most famous. But change is afoot.

As one of four schools chosen throughout Australia to participate in a new ‘School Selfies’ initiative, Bourke High School, situated in a small isolated community in far north-west NSW, is helping to breed the next batch of passionate social media photographers.

“You’ve got a good group of people who live here,” says Mr Bourke. “You’ve got all of these good kids who are trying to get the best out of their lives. And this school is an important pathway to help them find their way towards a good future.”

The School Selfie initiative, run by SBS Learn and the Australian Centre for Photography, involved a two-day traveling workshop which visited four of Australia’s most diverse high schools in October and November.

Bourke High School was one of four participating schools and, as a result, around 20 year 7 and 11 students from the local area got hands-on training to take the ultimate selfie.

"The project was something that really did broaden the student’s ideas and get the kids thinking about future career opportunities,” Mr Bourke says.

The students learned to de-construct photos, develop a concept and apply photographic techniques to produce a series of six very personal images.

“The students felt special and they did something fun, interesting and exciting. It helped them to feel good about themselves and about what they produced.”

ACP tutor and emerging artist Benjamin Stone-Herbert ran the workshops at Bourke High School; Murray High School (Albury); Longreach High School; and Hunter River High School (Newcastle) to teach the selfie enthusiasts how to use their mobile phone to visually portray the essence of what students thought made their school special.

Documentary photographer Marco Bok also visited the schools to capture their unique personalities and assist in the workshops.

Selected photos, taken by all participating students are now on display next to Mr Bok’s renowned images in a Sydney’s Australian Centre for Photography exhibition until Sunday 6 December.

Indigenous students from Bourke High School, Shakayla Dennis and Lekeisha Orcher, were both involved in the project. The 13-year-old girls told NITV the initiative left a positive imprint as it helped them to visualise a prospective career path as a photographer.

“We can now see how far someone can go in life from taking photos,” Shakayla and Leisha say.

“We will both be able to take the best selfies at school too.”

“We can now see how far someone can go in life from taking photos."

Lekeisha explains how she initially wanted to be involved in the workshops to learn a set of useful skills.

“You could take family photos now because you know how to take them, and when you’re out and about you can take good photos of anything,” Lekeisha said.

Meanwhile, Shakayla says “the best part was going out and taking photos of the outback down at the river”.

Bourke High School’s English and history teacher, Ree Nicholson, helped to deliver the initiative at her school. Her mission, she says, was to enable the students to feel good about their town and build a sense of local pride.

“When I was first appointed my position, [a media outlet] had published an article calling Bourke 'the most dangerous place in all of the world',” Ms Nicholson explains.

“This article had a huge effect on the community. I wanted the kids, who have a strong connection to this place, to use this project to show people what Bourke means to them.

"The students were able to receive positive feedback from the wider creative community, which boosted their self-confidence.”

Ms Nicholson will now ensure her year 7 English class put their new selfie skills to good use, creating a visual representation of Romeo and Juliet in the modern context of Bourke.

“The project was an opportunity for our school to utilise the 21st century technology that many of the students use so regularly, in an educational setting with experienced professionals.

 “I learned that social media can be used to spread positive messages and representations of people and places.”

School Selfie Programs
This November SBS launched its brand new Learning Hub, housing the very best of our free educational resources whilse providing a unique platform for teachers, schools and students to share their classroom creativity.

The School Seflies project was a major initiative delivered in November to celebrate the launch of SBS Learn: a new online education hub that houses free educational resources.

The online hub is a free educational platform for teachers and students containing curriculum-aligned material.

The hub now contains a School Selfie workshop program for mobile phones and tablets. It encourages students to reflect on their school via the visual art form and is available to all teachers.  

Find out more about SBS Learn

Find out more about the project