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A Northern Territory education

Scotch boys and staff experienced a different kind of learning at Tiwi College and at East Arnhem Land’s Garma Festival.

WORDS: MS MARNIE O’BRYAN – TIC INDIGENOUS PARTNERSHIP PROGRAM

 

In early August 2009 a group of 14 Year 10 and 11 boys, accompanied by Ms Marnie O’Bryan, Mr Tom Bowen and Ms Anna Chambers, travelled to the Northern Territory to visit Tiwi College on Melville Island. They also attended the annual Garma Festival as part of the Indigenous Partnership Program, a new arm of the Scotch Social Services program.

Scotch has had a connection with the Tiwi Islands since Dr Rob Smith took his first football trip there in 1996. Teams have been returning on a biannual basis since then, and a number of Tiwi students have also visited Scotch. Two years ago, as an initiative of the Tiwi Lands Council, Tiwi College was founded. It is a weekly boarding school for upwards of 50 Island teenagers who are housed in group homes on weekdays before returning to communities for the weekend.

Mr Batty and Dr Smith visited the school in 2008, and this year the Scotch Family raised funds to purchase a truck which is used to transport goods from the Darwin-Tiwi ferry to the school. The boys on the August 2009 trip were the first Scotch boys to stay at Tiwi College, and their arrival was heralded with great enthusiasm by both staff and students. The Scotch boys were wonderful ambassadors, willingly helping out around the grounds and working cooperatively with students in the classroom. Evenings were spent in the boys’ family group homes where much hilarity was had. All the Scotch boys cited this as a highlight of the trip, and it was clear the time spent together gave them a real insight into the issues and difficulties faced by indigenous populations. The visit culminated in a football match played in a wonderful spirit in over 30 degree heat on a rock-hard oval. It is fair to say we came off second best.

The group then travelled to East Arnhem Land to attend the annual Garma Festival run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation. ‘Garma’ is a Yolngu word meaning ‘both ways learning’ and equal numbers of indigenous and non-indigenous people attend. To have the opportunity to live side by side with large indigenous family groups and have them explain kinship systems, disciplinary procedures and to share life skills was a profound experience for all of us. Many of the boys attended key forum presentations on diverse topics ranging from government intervention in Northern Territory communities, opportunities for developing indigenous businesses, the use of IT in remote education, and the incarceration of young indigenous people. They also took part in the Cultural Tourism program through which they learned to make a spear and use it to (theoretically) catch a fish. Thankfully, the indigenous Water Rangers were more successful, and the boys enjoyed a feast of fish, hermit crabs (which they did manage to catch) and oysters cooked over a fire on the beach. We were all struck by the unstinting generosity of our hosts and their eagerness to share their culture and show us their home.

The privilege of being able to take part in this extraordinary experience was not lost on any of the group, and we all returned to Melbourne with a much greater sense of connectedness to indigenous Australia. GS

Updated: Monday 24 June 2013