"I see something better soon"
: a study into the development of a school-community partnership at Warakurna remote community

  • James Philip Heslop

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Aboriginal people have historically found themselves at the margins of decision-making processes within Australian society. Non-Aboriginal people have often attempted to interpret Aboriginal aspirations but have done so within the context of preserving their positions of dominance. In regard to schooling, Aboriginal students have generally encountered very little success. They have viewed their experiences as unpleasant and have found the curriculum to be largely irrelevant in meeting their aspirations. Moreover, they have been exposed to teaching practices that have actively worked to socialise them into accepting a perception of the world that is contrary to that embodied in their traditional culture.

    The provision of schooling in the Ngaanyatjarra Lands (Western Australia) is a recent phenomenon. Apart from some schooling that had been provided by the United Aborigines Mission (lJAM) at Warburton Ranges since the 1930s, the first service throughout the Lands was offered on an itinerant basis from 1977. Early developments encouraged a close partnership between the non-Aboriginal teacher and Aboriginal community based on the principle of satisfying mutual needs. That is, much of the resourcing of the school as well as meeting the personal needs of the teacher carne from community sources. On the other hand, the teaching 'expertise' was provided by the non-Aboriginal teacher.

    During the 1980s the resourcing of schools was taken over by the Education Department and many teachers found that they did not need the help of community members anymore. As the barbed-wire fences were erected around the school buildings the non-Aboriginal teachers concluded that the Aboriginal people had nothing to offer the schools anymore and the previously close partnership quickly dissolved. At the same time, however, a contrary trend emerged throughout the wider society. Parents were encouraged to enter into a stronger relationship with local schools through the agency of school councils and began to contribute their expertise and support to the process of school improvement.

    The main aim of my research was to investigate the interest of Aboriginal parents living in the Warakurna community to enter into a partnership with the non-Aboriginal-dominated school that would allow local aspirations and values to be expressed in school processes. I wanted to look at the extent to which Aboriginal people desired to take up positions of significant decision-making authority within the school. A Reference Group of significant Aboriginal men was established by the community to assist me in this study which was undertaken between March 1992 and December 1994.

    The findings of the research were surprising in two ways. First, interest in governing the school quickly achieved reality through the activity of a Parents' Council. The work of the council then spread from the school to influence other sections of community activity. The council also took on the role of advocating parent involvement in schools in other Lands' communities. Second, the process of parent involvement came at a considerable cost. Significant conflict arose between various sections of the community at Warakurna, the health of individuals suffered and some of the myths upon which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal behaviour was premised were exposed.

    The main finding of the research was that, once they were given the opportunity, the Aboriginal people showed a desire to be more fully involved in decision-making roles within the community. While achievements in particular fields of responsibility were often strongly resisted by non-Aboriginal stake-holders, at the conclusion of the study, clear progress had been made and was positively received by the Aboriginal people at Warakurna.
    Date of AwardMar 1998
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBrian Devlin (Supervisor) & Merridy Malin (Supervisor)

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