Journey to the Heart: Exploring Opportunities for Empowerment in Remote Australian Communities

18 December 2023 / Uncategorised

In August this year, several Youth Opportunities and Marshman Foundation staff members, Nicky, Tom, and Rebecca, were introduced by our partners at Coach Communications to Nyangatjatjara College and invited to visit the Northern Territory and explore potential opportunities for collaborative work in the remote communities there. This was an exciting opportunity that allowed us as an organisation to learn more about the needs of remote Australian communities, as we continue our national expansion, and consider the ways in which we can support these groups as the challenges presented align directly to our mission. 

Q&A with Nicky, Tom, and Rebecca

Hear from Nicky, Tom, and Rebecca as they each share their experiences from the trip. 

1. Tell us about where you went?  

Nicky: We went to Uluru and to Docker River which is a 6-hour round trip (mostly on dirt roads) to visit 2 of the school’s campuses. We were privileged to be taken right up close to Uluru and other places we wouldn’t normally be able to access. Docker River is so close to the WA border, and we drove to it just because we could! Uluru surprised me as the surroundings were so lush. It was quite breathtaking to see it, and to later see the children’s paintings because their view from the school is from the other side to what tourists see. 

Tom: We were privileged to be able to visit some closed Indigenous communities, including near Uluru, almost in the shadow of the rock itself, and in Docker River on the Western Australia border. This time, along with having the guidance of Mike Tucker, Principal and CEO of Nyangatjatjara College, allowed us to have a better understanding of the ways in which these communities live. We met the teachers in the schools and learnt that while the students all speak the local language, school is done in English at the request of the students’ parents, meaning that they translate everything they’re learning every day. Essentially, this makes the work these students do twice as difficult as learning in their primary language.  

Rebecca: We flew into Yulara and visited the Secondary college based there. Students that attend this college live at the Aboriginal community within the Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. We also visited a campus at Docker River which currently has both primary and secondary students attending. Docker River is about a 3-hour drive by dirt road from Yulara and is situated near the WA/NT border. 

2.  Tell us about the people you met? 

Nicky: Mike, the principal and CEO of the college, was our amazing host for the three days. He has devoted his life to education in remote Aboriginal locations across Australia and has deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities. We were blessed to have been given so much wisdom during that time. We also met some amazing teachers and some local artists in a community centre producing beautiful paintings. I bought a contemporary painting from a young artist and it’s gorgeous. 

Tom: I was especially grateful for Mike, who looked after us. He dedicated his time for almost three entire days as a guide and we learnt so much about the area. He was incredible. We also met the staff of the local school and took them through our program concepts, which they seemed to be really in support of.

Rebecca: We met Mike, the Principal of the college who has worked in remote community schools for many years. Witnessing the deep respect he has for the Aboriginal people, hearing his stories and of his experience was eye-opening and inspirational. We also met several of the teachers living and working at these schools. These are passionate and dedicated educators who do far more than just teach. 

3. What was the most special moment of the trip? 

Nicky: Standing with my colleague, Rebecca a qualified teacher, listening to the children playing at Docker River school in the middle of nowhere (there is literally one shop!) and she commented “it sounds like any other primary school anywhere” as the children squealed and the ball bounced. Then we met some of the amazing teachers and support staff who give so much to these communities and the delightful children chatting in their first language.  

Tom: I did a “Mystery flight” in the early 1990’s, which was essentially a scenic flight around the rock. On that trip, I saw from a distance “the Olga’s” rock formation, which is currently known as Kata Tjuta. Having the chance to visit it was a bucket list moment for me that didn’t disappoint.  

Rebecca: One of my most memorable experiences was calling into a local art centre. From the outside, the centre looked closed but once inside it was alive with conversation, creativity and a sense of community. 

4.  What learnings are you taking back into your personal and/or professional life?  

Nicky: That I am at the very beginning of my learning journey in understanding this space. We constantly hear about the gap and the problems but rarely about the richness of culture and the opportunities to really start listening and learning to authentically work together for the greater good. Personally, I am committed to make my own small dent in this space – always seeking understanding and knowledge to perhaps codesign a version of our amazing Personal Leadership Program that will genuinely enhance self-determination for our First Nation’s people. 

Tom: To see and get a first-hand experience into the many differences and challenges faced by all involved gave me a deeper understanding of the complexity of what we hope to achieve. It was encouraging to have Mike reiterate that the concepts we deliver have intrinsic value in overcoming some of the challenges their students face. The tools in our programs are so universal, and the practicality of developing these skills could make a significant difference in their world. As the old story goes, if you want to change your world, the only thing you can do is change yourself first – before you can impact your family, community, town, country, and the world. And, with continued learning and collaboration as an organisation, I believe we have the ability to have a positive impact with a potential ripple effect.

Rebecca: It’s a different dynamic and a different set of challenges when living and working within a remote community. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve been granted, and this trip has certainly been a reminder of this. I have an increased respect for Mike and his team, but also every other person who chooses to move out to these remote communities. It’s also really made me feel passionate about exploring ways we can collaborate with remote communities and empower them to teach our tools and coach their young people. 

What’s next? 

From here, Marshman Foundation will be funding a very early pilot that will test whether the children connect with the content. We will do this by translating our Power-Up primary program into Pitjantjatjara and enhancing the program with additional videos so it can be delivered within these remote communities. If successful, a second stage will commence where Youth Opportunities and Marshman Foundation work with the local community to codesign the program and train local teachers and community members to run it within schools and evaluate the outcomes.  

The program has some strong parallels with the Anangu values, and there are some real opportunities for benefit in the community. We look forward to working with Mike, the teaching staff and the community to explore this further and ensure this connection is represented in the program in a culturally competent way. 

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