of Yirrkala

Educating for Indigenous
Colin & Travis
Surviving in Arnhemland
Getting there…
• To get to Yirrkala, Elcho Island and other sites in Arnhemland you will fly up
to Darwin (we found Virgin Blue had the cheapest rates, but hunt around) then
you fly Air North the connecting flight.
• It’s possible to get to Yirrkala via Quantas on a trip through Cairns.
• Return tickets cost us around $600 for the air north flight and just under $400
for the Melbourne to Darwin flight, so a little under $1000 including taxes.
• Colin and I lived in the nurses quarters on the school grounds (wearing the
uniforms was optional!)
• We had full access to the school after hours which included a big kitchen,
laundry and computer rooms.
• In our room we had a fan and air con, so we stayed pretty cool and
comfortable the whole time
• In Gan Gan (homelands) pop-70 people, about 300kms inland, where we
stayed for 4 days, we slept in tents in the school classrooms. Mainly to stop
getting attacked by mossies & water buffalo!
What to take/pack…
• We needed very little in the way of resources to use during teaching.
• A good camera/video camera
• First Aid kit (more for the kids than you)
• Fairly casual clothing, girls you’ll need some good coverage, long dresses for
example. Guys, shorts and T’shirts are fine.
• Weather while we were there was usually around 18 at night, 30-35 in the
• Hat!
• Bring some closed shoes if you’re at Yirrkala as you might find yourself at a
smart pub.
• There is a KG limit of 13kgs on the air north flights, neither the girls at
Gali’winku or ourselves had any issue with it.
• Bring a few books, if you play an instrument bring it along.
In the classroom…
• Class teacher & Yolngu teacher- who teaches language & ESL, behaviour
support and open communication with parents & elders
• Bilingual education program
• Yolngu Matha program- language development with a focus on family history
and systems, there homeland: where there family originates from, Malk: skin
name, Bapurru: clan, Wangarr: totem.
• Walking talking text: Walking Talking Texts provides the framework and
methodology for implementing classroom practice for the teaching of Englishas-a-Second-Language (ESL).
• Assessment strategies and tasks are embedded in the teaching-learning
program which links to the developmental continuum of the Northern Territory
ESL Outcomes.
• During our stay we had access to the internet via the school computers
• The school was happy to let us use their landline phones.
• Telstra 3G mobile coverage was good for me, some handsets weren’t so
great though. No coverage in the homelands.
Keeping in touch…
Extra Programs…
This is an example of one of the extra programs we experienced at school.
•Lipa Lipa: was the making/creation of a traditional aboriginal canoe from the
very start (a large tree trunk about 5m long) to the end result of launching the
Lipa Lipa into the sea.
• A Lipa Lipa had not been made in the area for about 15yrs
• The whole process was filmed for a documentary over 12 months.
An elder, who had been trained in making Lipa Lipas, was in charge of the
whole process and guided the school and male students through each stage
He conducted ceremonies while we were there at different intervals over the
last 4 weeks.
• The burning ceremony was quite significant and the whole school gathered
to watch, this allowed them to soften the wood to shape it and identify any
leaks, the Lipa Lipa was half filled with water at the start.
• The staff at the school and homelands schools were all extremely friendly
and welcoming
• It was a very supportive environment. From meeting our mentor at the airport,
to walking into the staff-room on the first day we felt very welcomed and
• There was a good diversity in ‘Narpaki’ (white Australians) staff and yolngu
staff, from age, experience, origin etc.
• Family system is an integral & deeply layered (confusing) part of the
aboriginal community as it identifies people you are related to through
language, clan & totem
• I thought I had an idea of the aboriginal culture before I left but after staying
there for 4 weeks that concept was totally changed
• They are very friendly and generous & whatever they have they will share
with others in their community
• Their concept of personal space doesn’t really exist: children will always be
touching you, hugging, holding your hand, sitting on your lap, looking at you,
very in your face in an inquisitive way, they will push your idea of physical
boundaries, this is normal for them and you will see this from how they interact
with each other
• Very different for a male teacher in comparison to teaching in Melbourne
• Adoption: Colin got adopted as a father in Gan gan, I was the last of the (5 of
us) to get adopted, and thought it was never going to happen!I was adopted by
Walu (senior cultural advisor for Yirrkalla C.E.C) as a son near the end of my
Now it’s your turn!
Music: Waxhead – It’s Aboriginal