In west Arnhem Land, an education revolution expands to Manmoyi and Mamadawerre

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.

A group sing while standing on sand.
The celebrations including dancing and songs from local students and teachers.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)

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.

Kabulwarnamyo as seen from an aeroplane.
What started as a one-teacher classroom under a tarp in Kabulwarnamyo has grown into three independent schools.(ABC News: Michael Donnelly)

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.

Planes backed up on the outback airstrip near Kabulwarnamyo.
Planes were backed up on the outback airstrip near Kabulwarnamyo.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)

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.”

Lois Nadjamerrek speaks in front of a crowd.
Ms Nadjamerrek says it is important from elders to teach their children in traditional ways.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)

The day was also the launch of the centrepiece of Nawarddeken Academy’s bi-cultural curriculum — the Kuwarddewardde Malkno (stone country) seasonal calendar.

The Kuwarddewardde Malkno seasonal calendar on posters under a sheltered tent.
The Kuwarddewardde Malkno seasonal calendar was established by Bininj custodians from across the stone country.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)

The calendar, an initiative of local elders, connects seasonal and cultural knowledge with the Australian curriculum.

Terrah Guymala holds a microphone and talks to a crowd.
Mr Guymala said the push for independent schooling was “like hitting the wall”. “We didn’t give up,” he said.(ABC News: Steve Vivian)

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.

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