In the stone country of west Arnhem Land, in the remote Northern Territory, two remote homelands have realised their dreams of educational independence.
Traditional owners who have been locked in a decades-long struggle to gain more control of education for their children celebrated the registration of independent schools at the outstations of Manmoyi and Mamadawerre on Wednesday.
The celebrations were held in the outstation of Kabulwarnamyo, 530 kilometres east of Darwin, where the community school has been held up as a beacon of remote education, delivering high student engagement and school attendances averaging 90 per cent while in community.
The school is run by the Nawarddeken Academy, which has now, at the request of traditional owners, established campuses at Manmoyi and Mamadawerre.
The academy’s “two-way” curriculum — blending traditional culture with western learning — is being hailed as a revolution in on-country learning.
Hundreds gathered at Kabulwarnamyo on a day people noted was the busiest the outstation had been since the funeral of master painter and senior knowledge holder, Bardayal Lofty Nadjamerrek.
Many paid tribute to Lofty Nadjamerrek as the man who began this dream for his people.
“I’m really supporting my dad’s vision all the time I’m carrying with me,” traditional owner Lois Nadjamerrek said.
“This is the important thing for us. To teach our kids not only in our Bininj [culture] but also in balanda [white man] education. Both. We’d like to see that, so our kids can move along both ways.”
The day was also the launch of the centrepiece of Nawarddeken Academy’s bi-cultural curriculum — the Kuwarddewardde Malkno (stone country) seasonal calendar.
The calendar, an initiative of local elders, connects seasonal and cultural knowledge with the Australian curriculum.
Traditional owners have long wanted to see their kids be educated on country, which would in turn allow rangers to stay around their homelands and close to their children.
“Full-time school… two days out in the bush learning and bringing that story back to the classroom,” Mr Guymala said.
“It’s all about families having employment… and supporting our kids and guiding them towards the future.”
The community-driven model at the Nawarddeken Academy has achieved attendance rates well above the average for remote schools across the Northern Territory, which sit below 50 per cent.
Wardekken Land Management senior ranger Rosemary Nabulwad said teaching children on traditional lands strengthened their connection to country.
Federal Education Minister Jason Clare, nearing the end of his first month in the portfolio, flew in for the celebration.
After listening to speeches, addressing the crowd and taking a tour of the local school, Mr Clare said he was learning about what appropriate education looked like out bush.
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