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Sharing Place, Learning Together: A Two-Way Pedagogy


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Sharing Place, Learning Together (SPLT) is a cross-disciplinary education project that aims to develop the English and Science literacy skills of remote Aboriginal students. The project comprises an interdisciplinary team from the University of Melbourne (UoM) partnering with Maningrida College and the Djelk Rangers (Bawaninga Aboriginal Corporation) to support the College’s ‘Learning on Country’ program. Through cross-cultural exchanges and ‘on country’ visits Aboriginal biocultural knowledge is integrated with Western scientific understanding to develop curriculum and literacy resources. This paper details SPLT’s evolvement and discusses activities and learning experiences the partnership has generated. Linked to the project’s development, the paper presents the findings of a research study that investigated mutual capacity and partnership building between the Maningrida College Community and UoM. These findings reveal that relationship-building, coupled with a sustained presence in the community, were critical to strengthening the partnership, and highlighted that establishing trust and credibility must precede research initiatives.
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The Graduate School of Education
The University of Melbourne
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015
UNESCO Observatory
Journal in the Arts
Indigenous Education In Australia:
Place, Pedagogy and Epistemic Assumptions
Marnie O’Bryan, Prof. Mark Rose
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015
UNESCO Observatory
Journal in the Arts
The UNESCO Observatory refereed e-journal is based within the Graduate School of
Education at The University of Melbourne, Australia. The journal promotes multi-
disciplinary research in the Arts and Education and arose out of a recognised need for
knowledge sharing in the ield. The publication of diverse arts and cultural experiences
within a multi-disciplinary context informs the development of future initiatives in
this expanding ield. There are many instances where the arts work successfully in
collaboration with formerly non-traditional partners such as the sciences and health care,
and this peer-reviewed journal aims to publish examples of excellence.
Valuable contributions from international researchers are providing evidence of the impact of
the arts on individuals, groups and organisations across all sectors of society. The UNESCO
Observatory refereed e-journal is a clearing house of research which can be used to support
advocacy processes; to improve practice; inluence policy making, and beneit the integration
of the arts in formal and non-formal educational systems across communities, regions
and countries.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015
Guest Editors Marnie O’Bryan
Prof. Mark Rose
Editor-in-Chief Lindy Joubert
Associate Editor Naomi Berman
Designer Rosie Ren
ISSN 1835 - 2776
Published in Australia
Published by
The Graduate School o Education
© The University o Melbourne
The University o Melbourne, Parkville,
Victoria 3010.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 ii
Volume 4, Issue 2
Indigenous Education In Australia:
Place, Pedagogy and Epistemic Assumptions
This special edition o the UNESCO Observatory E-Journal focuses on education
for and about the First Peoples o Australia and bears witness to the many faces o
Indigenous education in Australia. It testiies to a complex landscape; places on a
map, places in minds and places in spirit that taken together present a snapshot o the
tone and dimension o Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education in early 2015.
Indigenous education policy is framed by a bi-partisan commitment to ‘closing the
gap’. In some instances, Indigenous leaders are framing the debate over how this is
best achieved. At the same time, non-Indigenous educators are increasingly becoming
aware that equality and mutual respect can only be established once the Australian
community opens its mind to the ancient wisdom and the true stories o this place.
Many o the articles in this publication identify the ‘gap’ as an epistemological
divide and argue that, like any bridge, education measures aimed at ‘closing the gap’
need to be constructed simultaneously from both sides. To that end, a number o
papers focus on initiatives being developed and explored by mainstream schools to
give authentic voice to the perspectives o First Australians for the beneit o non-
Indigenous students.
The papers in Volume One, ‘Indigenous Education in Australia: Policy,
Participation and Praxis’, are all concerned with how Western educational
structures and institutions work for and with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
students. Volume Two o the Journal is entitled ‘Indigenous Education In
Australia: Place, Pedagogy and Epistemic Assumptions’. Each o the articles in
this volume pertains to the education experiences o people living in remote Australia.
The articles in this publication take the reader through a rich multidisciplinary
tapestry that points to the breadth and complexity o the Indigenous education
landscape in Australia today. The papers are honest and true to the heterogeneous
communities that are the First Peoples o Australia. Similarly, the poetry and
artworks that appear here bear witness to the breadth, depth and diversity o artistic
talent and tradition in this country. Taken together, they challenge the reader to
move beyond a simplistic quest for ‘the silver bullet’ to redress disparity in education
outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. They encourage
relection, innovation, reciprocity, respect and empowerment through education.
We recommend each and every article.
Prof. Mark Rose & Marnie O’Bryan
Guest Editors
Guest Editors
Marnie O’Bryan
Prof. Mark Rose
Yirrkala Collage
Various Artists,
Yirrkala Art Centre
Courtesy of the artists
and Yirrkala Art Centre
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building iii
Accompanying Piece
Wild Yams
Bernice Baker
Courtesy of the Artist
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 1
Sharing Place, Learning Together:
Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building
Sally Godinho
Marilyn Woolley
Melbourne Graduate School of Education
The University of Melbourne
Jessie Webb
Kenneth Winkel
Australian Venom Research Unit
Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics
The University of Melbourne
Sharing Place, Learning Together (SPLT) is a cross-disciplinary education project
that aims to develop the English and Science literacy skills o remote Aboriginal
students. The project comprises an interdisciplinary team from the University o
Melbourne (UoM) partnering with Maningrida College and the Djelk Rangers
(Bawaninga Aboriginal Corporation) to support the College’s ‘Learning on Country’
program. Through cross-cultural exchanges and ‘on country’ visits Aboriginal
biocultural knowledge is integrated with Western scientiic understanding to
develop curriculum and literacy resources. This paper details SPLT’s evolvement and
discusses activities and learning experiences the partnership has generated. Linked
to the project’s development, the paper presents the indings o a research study that
investigated mutual capacity and partnership building between the Maningrida
College Community and UoM. These indings reveal that relationship-building,
coupled with a sustained presence in the community, were critical to strengthening
the partnership, and highlighted that establishing trust and credibility must precede
research initiatives.
KEYWORDS ‘Learning on Country’, place-based pedagogy, two way learning, cross-cultural knowledge,
Indigenous voice, partnerships
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 2
Maningrida is one o the largest and most diverse towns in the Northern Territory
(NT), and home to more than ten Aboriginal cultural groups. Seven main languages
are spoken in the area, predominantly Ndjebbana, Burrara, Nakara, Kunwin’ku,
Gurrgoni, Rembarrnga and Jinang, with English being spoken to various degrees
o proiciency. The Community school, recently classiied as a college, is categorised
in Government literature as disadvantaged. The My School website reveals that
Maningrida College has an oficial enrolment o 554 students — 97 per cent being
Indigenous, with a language background other than English. The measured level o
disadvantage is relected in its My School Index o Community Socio-Educational
Advantage (ICSEA) rating o 581 (1000 being the average), and an attendance rating
o 53 per cent (ACARA n.d.).
The University o Melbourne’s (UoM) connection with Maningrida College was
made in late 2010 when Mason Scholes, a senior teacher and an Australian Museum
Eureka Science prizewinner, contacted the University’s Australian Venom Research
Unit (AVRU). He invited a partnership to broaden the venomous biodiversity theme
within the school’s Learning on Country (LoC) program, beyond spider biology. The
latter element o the program, developed in collaboration with Dr Robert Raven o
Queensland Museum, had previously resulted in 46 new spider species being identiied
on the loodplains near Maningrida. Mason had developed an integrated ieldwork
program for senior students with Traditional Owners (TOs) and senior Indigenous
Djelk Rangers. This later evolved into a government-funded LoC program, one o
four piloted in Arnhem Land, designed for Indigenous students to learn ‘on country’
through day trips and bush camps within the large Djelk Indigenous Protected Area
(IPA) surrounding the Maningrida township.
The LoC program in this community is seen as vital to sustaining engagement with
country, given that the large majority (approximately 75 per cent) o the estimated
2,000 Indigenous people residing in the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) now
live within the large Maningrida township. However, a study o LoC programs by
Fogarty and Schwab (2012) found that, while the Maningrida program had achieved
markers o success, its dependency on the dedication o one staf member (Mason
Scholes) meant that the sustainability o the program was vulnerable.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 3
The Sharing Place, Learning Together (SPLT) team, led by the AVRU (in the Department
o Pharmacology and Therapeutics) and the Graduate School o Education at the UoM,
has been developed to support the College’s LoC program and its sustainability. More
speciically SPLT aims to enhance the development o the science and literacy skills
o remote Aboriginal students through knowledge exchange, and to deepen both
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal student understanding o Australia’s biodiversity
and natural resource management. This participatory, community-based project
aligns with Maningrida College’s Operational Plan (Maningrida College, 2013),
which seeks to increase school attendance and halve the gap in reading and writing
achievement for Indigenous students within a decade. SPLT’s intentions resonate
with the notion that partnerships involve individuals and organizations working
collaboratively to bring about an agreed outcome, and to leverage maximum gains
over policy agendas (Cardini 2006; Lowe 2011).
Partnership formation in any institutional setting presents challenges (Cardini 2006;
Huxham 2000; Lowe 2011) but in this context they included disciplinary, social,
cultural and linguistic considerations. A Melbourne Social Equity Institute (MSEI)
research grant in 2013 provided an opportunity to explore the complex circumstances
that can impact on sustainable partnership formation in a remote Aboriginal
community. Following the documentation o the activities and learning experiences
initiated by the SPLT project, this paper then discusses the study’s research indings
o what impacted the partnership building processes between UoM and Maningrida
The LoC program is grounded in place-based pedagogy where learning and
communication are structured around what is most meaningful to the students —
their places, their culture, their experiences (Gruenewald 2003; Comber & Kamler
2004). The project initiatives planned by the UoM team with Maningrida College
to foster its LoC program are premised on learning being two ways, a meeting o
Indigenous and Western knowledge and communicative capacities. These initiatives
identiied closely with the pedagogies endorsed by the 8 ways of Aboriginal learning
(Yunkaporta 2009; Yunkaporta & Kirby 2011) framework.
The SPLT team emphasized building capacities in both basic western and Indigenous
scientiic knowledge and in the reproduction o Indigenous ecological knowledge,
as recommended by the Australian National University’s Centre for Aboriginal
Economic Policy Research (Altman et al. 2011). Speciic health perspectives were
added to these two way capacities. This position aimed to augment the science
curriculum and teaching in the College, and make more explicit links with
Indigenous cultural frameworks and the customary Indigenous visual and spatial
ways o knowing (Fogarty 2012; Kimpton 2013).
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 4
Bishop and Berryman (2006) identiied that developing culturally responsive
relationships requires schools to build Indigenous pedagogies into their curriculum
and classroom programs. This infers that teachers need to ensure students feel they
can bring who they are and how they make sense o their world to educational
interactions. Further, opportunities should be created to elicit their value system,
their desires and aspirations, and what motivates them. Such actions embrace
what Martusewicz and Edmundson (2005) term a pedagogy o responsibility. This
positioning and presentation o knowledge, and the engagement with questions o
diversity, democracy and sustainability aim for a decolonizing partnership process
o recovery, knowing, analysis, and struggle (Tuck 2009). As Apple (2013) attests,
educators must consider how to create pedagogies that are deeply connected to the
reality o people’s lives.
In negotiating a position with the College partners, the SPLT team promoted a
willingness to participate in the teaching program ‘on country’ and in classrooms
in order to produce Indigenous-generated literacy resources. It was intended that
such resources would foster the recognition and endorsement o intergenerational
knowledge and communication forms. The team’s chosen position gave precedence to
Indigenous ways o knowing and to crucial issues o place, participation, engagement,
representation, and audience (Cahill &Torre 2007). It encouraged diverse, recorded
knowledge formats authored by Indigenous participants, rather than a limited focus
on journal articles conventionally shaped and written by academics with Indigenous
‘informants’ as ield assistants or embellishments within the text (Cahill & Torre
2007; Department o Innovation, Industry, Science and Research 2012; Fine &Torre
The framework shown in Figure 1 was developed by the Community and Elders o
Western NSW, the NSW Department o Education and Training, the Western NSW
Regional Aboriginal Education Team, and Tyson Yunkaporta (Yunkaporta 2009;
Yunkaporta & Kirby). The eight interactive teaching and learning pedagogies include
narrative-based learning, visual learning processes, hands-on/relective techniques,
use o symbols/metaphors, land-based learning, indirect/synergistic logic, modelling
scaffolded genre mastery and connectedness to community.
Figure 1
8 Aboriginal ways of
learning (Yunkaporta,
2009; Yunkaporta
& Kirby, 2011)
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 5
To strengthen their knowledge o speciic, place-based collaborative processes in
Arnhem Land, UoM team members analysed models o sustained collaboration and
successful outcomes in projects involving Indigenous ecological knowledge, writing,
and resource development (see for example, Altman et al. 2011; Ens et al. 2010;
Ens & Towler 2011; Jackson et al. 2011; May & Ens 2011). The following processes
were identiied to guide the partnership interactions and the planning o learning
begin with local knowledge systems o place and seek opportunities for
transfer o these traditional knowledge and skills to the focus o inquiry;
employ respectful listening and acknowledgment
o cultural knowledge to establish trust;
incorporate new technologies for capacity building, and enhanced
literacy and numeracy skills gradually and concretely;
implement ways o collaboratively communicating integrated
knowledge to the local broader community;
explicate local complexities and constraints ; and
recognize the need for constant face-to-face communication and
supportive scaffolding to sustain engagement and impact.
On the initial visit to Maningrida College in May, 2011 The Venom Patrol website
(University o Melbourne, 2011), developed by the UoM team, visually linked Western
irst aid treatments and injury prevention to the students’ on country experiences.
It served as a prompt to elicit Indigenous knowledge o danger and safety, irst
aid procedures and appropriate bush medicines and treatments. A bush trip with
students, Elders and teachers to Mangrove Country, along with follow up activities
whereby students illustrated, painted, spoke and wrote about their knowledge led
to the development o a website (Figure 2) for the school, featuring student proiles
and group presentations. The website was shown to family members and Elders as
a visible celebration o student knowledge o country and multimodal presentation
formats. Community responses were very positive and the College sought future
collaborative activities to diversify resource development.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 6
Figure 2
Open Explore Home
Page, showing student
art work, group
presentations and
individual student
proles developed
after the Mangrove
Country trip
The UoM team was subsequently approached to facilitate students’ writing o factual
text genres (recount, information, explanation, descriptive report and procedure).
A directive from the College staf was that computers not be used for initial drafts,
but rather students were to work on paper, with teachers scribing when necessary.
Prior knowledge o the students’ literacy levels, along with an awareness o their
capacity to produce their own creative literacies (Kral 2009) led to a team decision
to support students in authoring a series o Pocket Books, with content drawn from
their knowledge o country.
The text production processes were perceived as a form o knowledge exchange —
two way teaching and learning. Students informed and shaped the content, and the
SPLT team provided the literacy support for the students’ writing, led the publication
process, and sought permissions from Community Elders and TOs. In accordance
with the pedagogy advocated by Shor and Friere (1987) and Noddings (2005), among
others, the SPLT team saw their roles in ways described by Smith as the ‘experienced
guides, co-learners, and brokers o community resources and learning possibilities’
(2002: 593).
A Pocket Book (Figure 3) format, using text constructed in English, was chosen
because the size meant that these books were easily portable and could become a
prompt for student inquiry when out ‘on country’. The notion o Pocket Books was
also an attempt to look beyond schooling and embody critical knowledge for rangers
and eco-tourism — places where students are likely to seek future employment
(Fogarty & Schwab 2012). Each book was developed to model speciic genres and
text layout consistent with the writing outcomes for the NT English as a Second
Language curriculum framework (NT Government o Australia 2013). The books
were also intended to provide opportunities for students to record and express
cultural knowledge for a wider audience. Production o the books was staggered to
make the task manageable between SPLT team visits, and this strategy was outlined
to the College in a book development plan, which was created in Melbourne and sent
to the school in advance.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 7
Figure 3
Pocket Books authored
by Maningrida
College students.
Within small group student learning contexts, the construction o each text was
preceded by carefully scaffolded teaching strategies: manipulating and sorting visual
information; drawing on prior knowledge through whiteboard concept mapping;
modelling sentence starters and prompts; sequencing o statements; use o references;
questioning strategies to build vocabulary and extend descriptions (e.g. lea shape
or animal body features); and assembling artwork and photographs to support the
written text.
The UoM team drafted the intergenerational Indigenous knowledge onto book pages
for Indigenous teachers, students and Elders to review critically or augment. Revised
texts were then printed as Community and College science literacy resources, each
with visible, photographic evidence o Indigenous knowledge, ownership and
authorship on the front cover. Figure 4 shows students sorting visual information
prior to drafting the text for their Anim a l Trac k s Pocket Book and Figure 5 highlights
the modelling o a procedural text for a page in the Catch ‘n’ Cook Pocket Book.
Figure 4
Students matching
animals with their
tracks during the
process of Pocket
Book development.
Figure 5
Teacher modelling the
use of visual images
to scaffold the writing
of a procedural text.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 8
In accordance with the College’s Operational Plan to focus on literacy, students
demonstrated their capacity to meet the targeted writing outcomes for the NT
English as a Second Language curriculum (Northern Territory Government o
Australia, 2013), when content was relevant and engaging. An encouraging outcome
identiied by a teacher was that the students’ Science vocabulary had expanded
noticeably through working with the interdisciplinary team members. The Pocket
Books enabled a context for learning where the students were able to bring their
own culturally generated ways o knowing to their literacy experiences (Bishop &
Berryman 2006; Webb et al. 2013). Moreover, the Pocket Book production process
offered a model for other teachers in similar contexts to utilise (Godinho, et al. 2014).
The Pocket Book production prompted a female Elder, Leila Nimbadja, who has
worked at the Community nursery for many years and been involved in the College’s
horticulture programs, to signal that she would like her knowledge o plants
recorded within a larger format book (Figure 6). The UoM team worked with Leila
to compile material on the nature and uses o bush plants in descriptive, explanatory
and historical recount genres, which was drafted onto an electronic template and
organised under categories o plant uses: food and nutrition; bush medicine; material
culture; and tools and implements. Senior art students critically read the drafted
text, and then produced the botanical illustrations (Figure 7). This larger book titled
Using Bush Plants, has assisted in forging stronger links between the LoC and College
art programs, and formed part o a student art exhibition and knowledge exchange
at UoM as part o a visit to Melbourne by Maningrida College students, as detailed
later in the paper.
Figure 6
The cover for the book,
Using Bush Plants.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 9
The reinvigoration o the LoC program and extended ‘on country’ camps was
witnessed by the UoM team over two years o regular visits. Collaborative planning
for a schedule o camps in 2013 was undertaken by the teachers, Djelk rangers, NT
Government scientists and UoM team members. The rangers, in their land and sea
management activities, have close relationships with TOs whose country the College
visits for the LoC camps. Mobilizing TOs and other family Elders as additional
teachers was acknowledgement that their presence was essential for sustaining deep,
cultural learning in these settings and elevating the cultural material within school-
based disciplines and pedagogies. Their active participation in the LoC program
facilitated fulilment o the Community’s wish for greater inclusion o cultural
content in the curriculum, such as moiety, family and kin relationships, skin names,
cultural protocols and the roles and responsibilities to country in which Indigenous
Ecological Knowledge is embedded.
During the camps held in 2013, Western science knowledge provided by NT scientists
together with Queensland Museum’s Dr Robert Raven was successfully integrated
with the Djelk ranger program, extending the opportunities for students to learn
about how to research animals and plants. Simultaneously, TOs, Elders and rangers
provided rich trans-generational cultural engagement with the surrounding rock art
and reinforced Indigenous knowledge and cultural protocols surrounding animal
and plant handling/collecting (Figure 8).
Figure 7
The incorporation of
students’ illustrations
within the book,
Using Bush Plants.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 10
Figure 8
Lesson on rock art with
Traditional Owner,
Wesley Campion
during 2013 ‘on
country’ activities.
The interactive ‘on country’ experiences for the students were carefully planned
using a two way learning focus and embracing Aboriginal pedagogies identiied
within the 8 Aboriginal Ways of Learning framework (Yunkaporta 2009; Yunkaporta &
Kirby 2011). Journal writing sessions were conducted on the camp whereby students
could interact with Elders and record relevant information about the topic (Figure
9). Photographs taken on camp reveal the intercultural exchanges that enabled
productive follow-up learning activities back in the classroom supported by UoM
team members (Figure 10).
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 11
Figure 9
A journal writing
session on camp,
illustrating teacher/
Figure 10
PowerPoint produced
by a senior art student,
Noeline Galarla,
after the camp for
assessment of an
arts-based subject.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 12
The LoC activities and their outcomes demonstrate that a remote learning program
can facilitate the maintenance and strengthening o culture and the ability o students
to live in two worlds (Guenther, Osborne & Bat 2013). Moreover, the LoC program
challenges notions o those who are more typically deined as teachers, recognizing
the importance o a ‘whole-of-community’ (Emerson et al. 2012) approach to teaching
and learning (Figure 11). As indicated by College records, these LoC camps encourage
student attendance, which is an explicit aim o the College’s Operational Plan. This
outcome afirms Emerson et al.’s claim that the LoC approach to learning can lead to
more positive attitudes to schooling.
Figure 11
Alistair James and
Joseph Diddo, school
staff and Traditional
Owners, demonstrating
traditional rope
making techniques
at Ndjudda Point, a
‘Learning on Country’
site to the north of
Maningrida College.
The reinvigoration o the LoC program has created a need for documenting the
College’s approach to learning ‘on country’ and developing a systematic curriculum
scope and sequence o the cultural knowledge, concepts and skills embedded in the
associated activities. TOs, Elders and Community members are critical points o
reference and consultation in writing this culturally responsive curriculum, and the
UoM team supported the initial documentation processes. This focus on community
participation is contrary to claims by Lowe (2006) that there has been little evidence
o a commitment to develop curriculum that acknowledges the distinctiveness o
Australian Aboriginal cultures and also builds on the theory o quality pedagogy
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 13
The Maningrida College’s annual ‘Learning on City’ visits to Melbourne are an
extension o its LoC program. These visits align the SPLT project’s intent to provide
opportunities for students to share their cultural knowledge and to experience
learning activities beyond the local community. ‘Learning on City’ visits are deemed
by the College as a reward for increased attendance in Years 11 and 12, and as an
incentive for middle school students to stay at school and attend frequently when in
the senior school.
During the Melbourne visit in 2013, The UoM team organized visits to Bundoora
Secondary College and Nossal High School. The former is a suburban school with a
sizeable Indigenous cohort that embraces Aboriginal culture and implements Koorie
Education Learning Plans (KELPs) for all Indigenous students. The latter is situated
on the outskirts o Melbourne and places a strong focus on Science education and
connecting with the local Indigenous cultural heritage. At Bundoora, students
viewed an art exhibition and exchanged their experiences o creating art works using
a variety o techniques and media. This was followed by a shared intercultural art
experience when students assembled handprints on tee shirts. Maningrida visitors
were then given the opportunity to share their knowledge o kinship systems,
skin names and aspects o their Learning on Country Program with the Bundoora
Secondary College students and staff. When visiting Nossal High School, Maningrida
students partnered with Nossal students in a range o Science laboratory workshop
experiments. This was followed by a lesson on native bush plants and foods from
the local environment. The College’s Operational Plan now commits to continue
intercultural student exchanges with these nominated partner schools.
During the Melbourne visit, Maningrida students also visited wildlife parks and
the Melbourne Zoo’s reptile house and the butterly house, where they learnt from
scientists about animal husbandry and research procedures. The interactive First
People’s Exhibition at the Museum o Victoria offered a unique cultural experience
where the students learnt about how the exhibition was mounted in collaboration
with clan Elders. On another day, a tailor-made art workshop was developed by
the Education Oficer at the National Gallery o Victoria (NGV) to introduce the
exploration o art in other cultures, along with the introduction o new art techniques.
Here the students learnt about Japanese tea ceremonies and were able to connect this
with their own experiences o the preparation o green ant tea, demonstrated by a
female Elder, Laura Rungguwarnga, on a LoC camp in 2013 (Figure 12).
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 14
Figure 12
Laura Rungguwarnga
giving a lesson on
making medicinal
green ant tea during
a LoC camp.
A deliverable speciied by the MSEI research grant was a participatory workshop
in 2013 to which people from across UoM with interests in Indigenous education
were invited. Aims o this workshop were to promote the potential for greater
knowledge exchange across the UoM, and to raise Aboriginal students’ aspirations
for engagement in further education. In alignment with the Bradley Review (2008),
Indigenous involvement in higher education is not only about student participation
and the employment o Indigenous staf but also about what is valued as knowledge
in the academy.
This workshop was a whole-community approach to representing the LoC program
within which the students mounted an exhibition o their artwork and LoC program
materials. This mode o delivery recognized the need for creating a space for those
Community members involved in the program to inform both the partnership and
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 15
the wider UoM community. It represented a commitment to centering marginalized
voices (Torre & Fine 2006: 458) and offering a new medium for student expression:
those whose voices are often not heard (Masters 2010; Zbar, Kimber, & Marshall
2010, Apple 2013).
The artwork exhibition (Figure 13) formed part o their school assessment and
provided each student with the opportunity to take the role o expert/teacher to
the workshop participants. The impact o this participatory workshop on students’
conidence and sense o achievement was communicated by a College staf member
after this Melbourne visit.
The staf and students in the Graduate School created a conducive environment for
our students to talk and, most importantly, build conidence. One of my highlights was
seeing the students mingle with the crowd at the presentation, describing their work and
showing what great things they have created and learnt at school.
Figure 13
Examples of the
artwork and media
techniques displayed as
part of the exhibition,
including bark paining,
linocut prints and
fabric printing.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 16
The SPLT team had delayed any formal research, mindful that essential to a successful
and ethical research outcome was the establishment o trust through building robust
relationships with Community members (National Health and Medical Research
Council, 2003). After two years o regular visits, the team believed it now timely
to investigate the partnership formation and capacity building between UoM and
the Maningrida Community with funding provided by the Melbourne Social Equity
Institute. In choosing the emphasis o what was to be studied, a small case was framed
(Cohen, Manion & Morrison 2011; Yin 2009), focusing on the centrality o human
interaction and the social situatedness o sharing place and learning together.
Throughout the conduct and analysis o semi-structured interviews with a diversity
o partnership stakeholders, the SPLT team sought to identify the processes o capacity
building amongst community members. The aim was to assist with identifying
opportunities to merge Indigenous and Western knowledge and practices, and gain
perspectives on partnership formation. The research project was approved by the
UoM’s Human Research and Ethics Committee and the NT Department o Education
and Children’s Services, and consent was obtained from the College’s principal, and
the 14 participants.
Fourteen College and Community members were invited to participate in the study
and accepted the invitation, having read and signed the plain language statement. The
participants included: TOs, members o the College leadership team, the Language
and Cultural Coordinator, classroom teachers involved in the LoC program, an
Indigenous teacher assistant, a teacher involved in the Family as First Teachers
program, and a UoM Master o Teaching graduate who was employed by the school.
Community members participated in individual semi-structured interviews o
approximately one hour’s duration, which were conducted on site. With the intent
o producing knowledge about partnership building from the interview process,
open-ended questions were asked to facilitate participants giving voice to their own
experiences o the SPLT partnership (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009). The interviews
were all audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and made available to each participant
for member checking during the follow up visit. The qualitative analysis o data
involved coding to identify emergent themes (Gibbs 2007; Miles & Huberman 1994;
Richards 2005) in relation to partnership building. Snapshots from these emergent
themes are now presented.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 17
The term partnership is suggestive that trust exists between the organizations
involved (Cardini, 2006). The interview data afirmed the importance o fostering
trust and credibility, but revealed uncertainty and some misgivings around the
team members’ intentions at the project’s outset. When asked ‘How did you initially
feel about UoM’s involvement with the College community?’ one o the leadership
team responded, ‘there was deinitely some trepidation.’ Another stated, somewhat
cynically, that ‘Maningrida is so heavily hit by government visitors and researchers,
any people that think they want an Aboriginal experience. They choose Maningrida
because it is on a quick light from Darwin.’ Participants believed that researchers
were generally self-serving with little commitment to the school, and this was
expressed poignantly by a school leader:
[W]e get over loaded big time with researchers, medical people, other people from other
places who just think just they can just come here and ix the problems experienced and
go away and write some fantastic paper about the wonders of the world in Maningrida.
But at the end of the day leaving us to do the actual groundwork of what it is really
The teachers shared the leadership team’s misgivings, one teacher describing her
response to the SPLT team’s visit as ‘dubious’ and making a clear distinction between
its positioning to the project and that o the teachers: ‘Like you came in with your
agendas, and we came in knowing the context and the kids’ (Teacher). The teacher
participants also expressed resentment that the SPLT team was afforded privileged
treatment, such as visits out country.
Balandas [a term used colloquially to describe non-Aboriginal people throughout the
Maningrida region] come in and they get to go on all these great things ... And you think
I have been here for three years and I’ve never been to Kolorbidahdah (campsite). But
people come up for two weeks and they go to Kolorbidahdah. So you feel like you are
doing the hard yards but you are not getting the rich experience the visitors are getting,
you know.
The participants acknowledged that their trepidation diminished with time as
commitment o the SPLT team to support the LoC program, and the College’s
Operational Plan was evidenced through the website and book production initiatives.
One teacher commented, ‘We have seen the work that happens when you do come
here and also the results from the work that you have helped facilitate.’ After several
return visits, it was accepted that the team’s presence was ‘not a one off ’. A school
leader articulated that he now perceived the SPLT team’s involvement with the
College as ‘a continual thing – growing the school and growing the Community.
Overall, interviewees viewed the team as ‘sympathetic to the needs o the students’
and considered members were ‘more giving than taking’.
The importance o relationship building as a factor which earned the Community’s
respect and trust was consistently raised. As one participant elaborated:
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 18
You weren’t trying to push through your objectives. You wanted to work with the kids.
And likewise those students responded in quite a relatively short time because Indigenous
students see right through into what’s inside a person and whether they are genuine or
Similarly, the teacher stated, ‘The children already know who you are. They ‘sus’
things out; they know who’s coming and who’s going out before we do.’ Giving time
to relationship building was deemed critical, and as she noted: ‘We took it slowly, and
you listened to what we said.’ Importantly, as one teacher expressed, the return o
Indigenous Assistant Teachers and TOs ‘who left the school when bilingual education
got canned … have only just now come back to the school.’ He added: ‘Mason, coming
back had lot to do with that … But you can take that as a pretty good indicator that
the Indigenous people who are involved with you guys, and what you are doing with
the school, are happy.’
The Pocket books were unanimously identiied as ‘a real winner’ — several
interviewees noting their celebration by the wider Community (Godinho et al.
in 2014) — in addition to many individual critical events being cited as assisting
with partnership formation. However, relationship building between the partners
emerged as a key sub theme. One teacher named the Mangrove Country trip visit as
a critical event saying, ‘I saw the faces o yourselves and the students when you got
back and, yeah, that would have been one o the key excursions to forge relationships
with the students.’ However, a leadership member, identiied curriculum resources
provided by UoM to support the documenting and scoping o the LoC program as
the critical event:
The biggest one for me, although I like the books, is the ACARA units of work you
have been writing. Because even though we are not using them at this moment they
will become part of the long term mapping of the curriculum that middle school going
through to upper school can deliver.
A senior school teacher identiied a camp experience at Kolorbidahdah:
[You engaged] with the students and with what I was doing with the rock art and around
the plants and the work with Anna. You supported what I was thinking and feeling. …I
came back from that camp very excited and charged with lots of energy, new ideas and
new possibilities.
By contrast, several interviewees highlighted parental recognition and valuing o
the project as critical to strengthening the partnership. A student, whose artwork
was displayed in a history o venom exhibition at UoM Melbourne and published
in the catalogue (Healy & Winkel 2013), gave her mother ‘a sense o pride that was
huge.’ The school leader added, ‘Those little things that Balanda people would see as
little — minor — are monumental, huge and we can never undervalue them because
the discussion and stories that stem from your contribution you can’t put a value on.
He also referred to a father who speaks highly o the SPLT team, ‘because o the time
you have put into his son’, elaborating, ‘So, the fact that you are touching the students
in a really positive way has their families talking [positively].’
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 19
Other interviewees referred to factors, rather than critical events, which they
attributed to the capacity building around the partnership, including the teaching
experience o some SPLT team members. A teacher interviewee stated, ‘I respect
what you have to say, rather than it just coming from the world o thinking.’ And
another noted that, ‘It’s the fact that it is you guys — the same people each time — that
is a really good idea and i someone else was going to start coming up, I’d advise them
to come with you guys irst.’
‘Having the right personnel and keeping the right personnel’, in so much as they have
‘something to offer something from a school perspective’ was also raised as a critical
factor. Moreover, it was the ‘Continuity with people’ that interviewees unanimously
attested was critical to capacity and partnership building. As one teacher stressed, ‘i
the UoM want to be part o the school, they have to have a continued presence’. He
remarked on the turnover o staf and principals claiming, ‘I have signed 83 going
away cards in ive years and had three changes o principals. The [SPLT] team must
ensure that new teachers know who they are and who they are working with.’
Another enabling factor interviewees identiied was the connections that the UoM
team formed with the Djelk rangers: ‘We don’t have the time to sit down with the
rangers and make complimentary banks o what the teachers and rangers could
be connecting with. We don’t even have the contact with the rangers to do that.’
The SPLT team was seen as illing a signiicant professional gap by collating and
‘keep[ing] centralised documents, resources and information’ that supported their
classroom programs. This included providing access to integrated units o work that
drew on the rangers’ expertise.
The leadership who had been instrumental in securing funding for the Melbourne
visit by students and staf from Maningrida in 2012 identiied this as a critical event.
The trip that happened last year allowed the students to take their knowledge and
understanding and show other perspectives of that knowledge and understanding in a
diferent environment.
We all need to get out, and we all need to see what the world is around us. And having
those opportunities in a safe environment, being facilitated by people who we trust, can
help grow our learning and grow our understanding of the world.
To see a world that has got all the things in it that you talk about with Science and Maths
and people actually engaged in research — people’s whose whole lives are about venom,
animals and museums. They haven’t had seen that before. So, when they come back and
they showed it [video] at the assembly, kids were going ‘What’s that?’ It’s a big science
lab and the kids had something in their hands, you know it was fantastic …. These kids
were watching the kids down in Melbourne do things.
On the strength o such feedback, the aforementioned second visit was planned and
executed in 2013, and it is intended this will become an annual two way learning
experience for both the Maningrida and the UoM communities.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 20
The interview data highlight that ‘sustained time is what builds currency’. Whilst
the longevity o the project was acclaimed, the shortness o visits were said to impact
relationship building as an Indigenous assistant teacher stated:
You build solid relationships with those kids but you are here for a relatively very short
period of time. And then you have gone and come back eleven weeks later and then you
are gone and you are back. And everything about Indigenous education is about time in
the community and building relationships.
Commitment, as Michael Apple suggests, must be ‘countered by humility and an
equal commitment to listen carefully to criticism’ (2013: 21), and this reality is a
barrier that requires some thoughtful consideration.
Communication between the SPLT team and the College was seen as somewhat
problematic with information often not being relayed from the leadership team to
the teachers. In addition several staf stated they did not have clarity about the aims
and purpose o the project and their roles with it. As one teacher attested, ‘It took
me a while to get my head around what your goals were and how they itted with
what our goals were’, albeit acknowledging that ‘this is a part o the school’s [lack o]
communication.’ There was also a feeling o being insiders and outsiders, those who
were not targeted by the school leaders to work with the SPLT team having little
or no awareness o what the SPLT project entailed. The MTeach graduate teacher
suggested a ‘Q & A type thing like i you want to come and learn about what they
[SPLT team] are doing.’ Likewise a teacher suggested providing some documentation,
a one pager, to list the team members’ roles and to identify how the teachers itted
within the scope o the project.
Criticisms were also levelled at the visit to Melbourne supported by the SPLT team:
‘something that could be improved on i the presenters were really aware o who
their audience was and the nature o communicating with them. I feel there were
quite a few missed opportunities when they were talking over the kids’ heads.’ Again
reference was made to inadequate communication prior to the visit, and overlooking
the need ‘to involve the teacher in that teaching process as well’, so that learning
opportunities were maximised. The MSEI grant that funded this research afforded an
opportunity to address some o these concerns when planning the 2013 Maningrida
College visit to Melbourne, but importantly also to ensure that this visit embraced
two way learning, a knowledge exchange.
The SPLT team’s engagement with text production honoured a commitment to assist
with the College’s Operational Plan to focus on literacy outcomes and support the
implementation o the LoC program. The team’s involvement has contributed to
moving the efforts o a single committed teacher working with Traditional Owners,
Elders and Djelk rangers to a whole school and community involvement in the
LoC program and place-based pedagogy (Gruenewald 2003; Comber & Kamler
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 21
2004). The LoC program and its outcomes resonate with the metaphor o ‘red
dirt thinking’ (Guenther, Osborne & Bat 2013), which challenges dominant public
discourse, government measures o disadvantage, and popular media emphasis on
poor outcomes and failures in remote communities like Maningrida.
The indings from the small MSEI research study have revealed that relationship
building coupled with a sustained presence in the community were pivotal to the
partnership formation between the SPLT team and the Man ingrida Community. They
have also highlighted that partnerships need to be multidimensional and responsive to
community needs. The critical events, which the interview data identiied as evolving
the partnership formation included: participation in LoC camps; support o teachers’
classroom practice; adoption o Aboriginal pedagogies and two way learning; and
engaging with Community members to produce Indigenous Knowledge resources.
Importantly the interview data imply that establishing trust and credibility with
Community must precede a research agenda. This inding indicates that academics
may initially need to step back from the pressures for research outcomes imposed
by their institutions, foster the building o trust and credibility, and adopt what Bell
calls the cultural littoral where they, as visiting research partners, learn to walk the
foreshore looking both ways (2011: 218).
Essentially, the partnership was contingent upon the Maningrida Community’s
preparedness to engage with an external, geographically distant institution and be
open to the ideas and learning experiences that the team offered. Whilst there have
been episodes o misunderstanding and fragility, there is overall goodwill, and the
potential o this partnership was recognised in a joint NAB Schools Impact Award
in 2013. Importantly, the partnership has afirmed the importance o embracing a
pedagogy o responsibility (Martusewiez & Edmundson 2005) that builds two way
capacities and brings forward the voices o Aboriginal people in this community to
present their position (Guenther, Osborne & Bat 2013). The partnership between
Manigrida Community and the UoM has shown that learning can be ‘both ways’ – a
synthesis o Western and traditional Indigenous knowledge and practices.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 22
The following Community members have assisted with permission and material for
this article either in Maningrida or at Ndjudda Point, Dukaladjarrandj LoC Camp and
Kawidji Kurulk LoC Camp: Rebecca Baker, Wesley Campion, Joseph Diddo, Alistair
James, Doreen Jingjarrabarra, Susan Malgaridj, Ivan Namarnyilk, Leila Nimbadja
Mary Njutawarnga, Baru Pascoe, Jay Rostron, Jessie Rostron, Victor Rostron, Laura
Rungguwarnga, Matthew Ryan, Heleana Wauchope- Gulwa, Helen Williams and
Anna Yarrmuwanga.
We are grateful for the assistance o those who have supported the SPLT team: Alys
Stevens from the Northern Territory Department o Land Resource Management;
and Mitch Carey, Jaya Regan, Mason Scholes and Deborah Turnell from Maningrida
College. We also thank Phil Taylor for his contributions to the graphic design and
The Sharing Place, Learning Together project is supported by the Sutherland Trust, the
Melbourne Social Equity Institute, and through salary support for Ken Winkel and
Jessie Webb from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 23
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Volume 4 | Issue 2 | 2015 Sharing Place, Learning Together: Mutual Capacity and Partnership Building 27
Artist: Bernice Baker, 18 years old from Maningrida, West Arnhem Land
My skin name is Bangardijan and I am Martay Burrara. My father’s country is
Ndjudda Point on the Arafura Sea. My mother’s country is Murrunga Island, near
My painting is about the yams that grow in my country, We dig up the yams from
the soil with a stick and then we cook them and eat them. I have learnt about this
plant from my family. Its uses have been passed down from my mother and her
This painting o the yam plant takes up most o my canvas. I have used warm colours
such as reds, yellows and browns. I have used these bright and strong colours because
they remind me o the yam plant and also they are some o the traditional colours o
Arnhem Land.
I like painting on canvas, printing on fabric and drawing pictures o bush food. I got
a lot o my ideas for my artworks from Leila’s book about bush food and medicine.
When I leave school I would like to work in the Women’s Centre printing fabric.
Wild Yams
Bernice Baker
Courtesy of the artist
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Arnhem Land has been inhabited by Aboriginal people for at least 50 000 years and remains a stronghold of Aboriginal culture and community (Chaloupka 1993). Like many first peoples, Arnhem Landers have fundamental and enduring connections to country with intricate ecological and cultural knowledge of flora, fauna and ecosystems, particularly those utilised for food, water, medicines, shelter, utensils, seasonal indicators, art, ceremonies and other cultural purposes. Aboriginal people have managed land and sea resources for millennia. However, since the European colonisation of Australia, new threats to country and cultural knowledge of country have emerged. The introduction and spread of feral animals and exotic plant species, the collapse of customary fire management regimes due to depopulation of ancestral lands, and the effects of climate change have and continue to degrade and alter the ecology of the landscape (Altman et al. 2007). External influences have also dramatically affected customary lifestyles and the processes and activities required for effective ongoing transmission of customary knowledge and skills between generations. Contemporary approaches to Aboriginal land management aim to address these threats by supporting the return and reconnection of people to country and culture and encouraging community-based natural resource management using a ‘two-toolbox’ approach—the respective knowledge systems and techniques of Aboriginal people and western scientists. The following two examples describe how we, as non-Aboriginal scientists, have been working with communities in Arnhem Land to conserve plants and culture.
Full-text available
This paper shares the process and outcomes of implementing a literacy initiative in a remote Indigenous community. The Pocket Book production involved genre-based constructions of Indigenous student knowledge of country, nutritional value of bush foods, and first aid treatments for venomous bites and stings. The process provides a model for other similar contexts.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
When people talk about education of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, the language used is often replete with messages of failure and deficit, of disparity and problems. This language is reflected in statistics that on the surface seem unambiguous in their demonstration of poor outcomes for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. A range of data support this view, including the National Action Plan—Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) achievement data, school attendance data, Australian Bureau of Statistics Census data and other compilations such as the Productivity Commission's biennial Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report. These data, briefly summarised in this article, paint a bleak picture of the state of education in remote Australia and are at least in part responsible for a number of government initiatives (state, territory and Commonwealth) designed to ‘close the gap’. For all the programs, policies and initiatives designed to address disadvantage, the results seem to suggest that the progress, as measured in the data, is too slow to make any significant difference to the apparent difference between remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schools and those in the broader community. We are left with a discourse that is replete with illustrations of poor outcomes and failures and does little to acknowledge the richness, diversity and achievement of those living in remote Australia. The purpose of this article is to challenge the ideas of ‘disadvantage’ and ‘advantage’ as they are constructed in policy and consequently reported in data. It proposes alternative ways of thinking about remote educational disadvantage, based on a reading of relevant literature and the early observations of the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation's Remote Education Systems project. It is a formative work, designed to promote and frame a deeper discussion with remote education stakeholders. It asks how relative advantage might be defined if the ontologies, axiologies, epistemologies and cosmologies of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families were more fully taken into account in the education system's discourse within/of remote schooling. Based on what we have termed ‘red dirt thinking’ it goes on to ask if and what alternative measures of success could be applied in remote contexts where ways of knowing, being, doing, believing and valuing often differ considerably from what the educational system imposes.
Despite the vast differences between the Right and the Left over the role of education in the production of inequality one common element both sides share is a sense that education can and should do something about society, to either restore what is being lost or radically alter what is there now. The question was perhaps put most succinctly by the radical educator George Counts in 1932 when he asked "Dare the School Build a New Social Order?", challenging entire generations of educators to participate in, actually to lead, the reconstruction of society. Over 70 years later, celebrated educator, author and activist Michael Apple revisits Counts’ now iconic works, compares them to the equally powerful voices of minoritized people, and again asks the seemingly simply question of whether education truly has the power to change society.