by Alex from Maybe ( ) Together

I was handed this book: Why Warriors Lay Down and Die by Richard Trudgen. The community here was given a PD by him, and the book is very revealing into the history and continual mis-communications between Ballanders (white) and Yolngu (indigenous to Arnhem land) . I’m only at the beginning but can see the complexity of issues up here. History, bad decisions repeated over and over, war, acts of support, acts of bullying, moments of apathy, and so much misunderstanding.

The school I’m at is fenced in. This is considered a good thing, because it creates a safe space for the kids. Only a small percentage of kids actually come to school, one class has 50 on its enrolment form, and anywhere between 2 and 18 actually attend.

There are 7 different clans in Maningrida, so 7 different languages spoken. And with such low attendance at school, the kids’ english is really poor.

I’m employed by Corrugated Iron, who have been funded by the Education Department. Two artists have been here for 8 months. Their role is to support literacy and numeracy through arts for the prep to yr 3s. They are one of many arts projects that are provided to remote communities. The school is ridiculously well resourced with technology (a green screen!) hidden in cupboards long forgotten.

The kids are masters at getting by answering “yes” all the time. Very quickly you realise their level of understanding isn’t good, that they’re just saying they understand, when in fact they don’t.

How these teachers get through any curriculum is beyond me. Yet this is what’s pressurising their days. This stringent curriculum. And as Ken Robinson says, it’s all systemised under a method of producing for an industrial revolution: something that is beyond irrelevant here.

These kids are going to straddle two worlds. Ballander and Yolngu. And hats off to them how they do this.

Here is a list of things that trouble me. And perhaps I’ll answer them in more detail later:
– the lack of questioning from the kids to Ballanders. When things don’t make sense, they just go with it. My colleague told a beautiful story of a child drawing a white cupboard atop an owl because she didn’t understand “white snow covered owl”
– why does the school terms out here not have the long “summer” break in dry season? The communities all head to Maningrida over wet season. And during dry season they’re out on country.
– why are there so many first year out teachers here?
– what is the role of a Ballander artist out here, when there is a very tight curriculum set and beautiful and strong Yolngu culture?
– Yolngu kids don’t have a good understanding of things pretend, imagination etc. In their culture things are real. Its a very western idea to have fairy tales, imagination etc. Why do we have this? is it a good thing?
– the amount of waste out here is huge. They are brought up in a school of consumerism, knowing that if something breaks it can be replaced. And it is. The amount of paper, packaging, electricity, water used is unexpected.
– There are constant requests for fracking & mining gas & oil. This disturbs considerably the land that many Yolngu rely on when living on country. Which generates disempowerment, reliance on subsidy/government for support and a myriad of other social issues.