Dural House – The Australian Monday 17/9/12
18 September 2012
On Monday 17 September there was an article on Wunan’s Dural House (Sydney NSW). Congratulations Jamie, Tracy and kids.
Boarding gives kids view outside the box
EACH weekday morning in a sprawling house on Sydney’s leafy outskirts, a group of Aboriginal children emerge from their bedrooms at the crack of dawn, already smartly dressed in their school uniforms.
The residential duplex in Dural in Sydney’s northwest is the boarding home of 10 children from the severely disadvantaged town of Halls Creek whose parents have been given access to scholarships for their children.
With poor remote education outcomes widespread and well documented, and school attendance critically low throughout the bush, the parents of these Halls Creek students want something better for their children.
At Pacific Hills Christian School in Dural, the past year has been spent largely in remedial education for boys such as Juwan Watson, Benard Stretch and Wade Madden.
As literacy and numeracy scores have climbed, the wonders of a fully rounded curriculum — dedicated classes in science, history and geography, so often unavailable at remote schools — has opened the world.
‘‘I’ve learned about things that I never knew were real,’’ said Juwan, 13 and in Year 7. ‘‘We found out what really happened with the Persian king. There was a man named King Darius and he had a son named Xerxes who took over from the Persian empire, and they tried to conquer Athens.’’
Halls Creek has been proposed as the trial site for a radical social responsibility policy, modelled on the Cape York welfare reform trial, being put forward by the East Kimberley Wunan Foundation.
Boarding school places would be offered as one of a set of incentives to reward parents who regularly send their children to school, hold down jobs and care for their houses, while Aboriginal-staffed community panels would have the power to impose welfare sanctions for those who did not.
Father of three Jamie Elliott and his wife, Tracey, are the house parents for the 10 Halls Creek children in the scholarship program that is a partnership of Wunan, the Dural Baptist Church, Pacific Hills Christian High School, William Clarke college in nearby Kellyville and Halls Creek District High School.
‘‘Everyone in Halls Creek loves their children and everyone wants the best for them, it’s just they don’t have the support,’’ Mr Elliott said. ‘‘I always say if you’re brought up in a box and all you know is in that box, all you learn about life is what is in that box.’’
In Wade’s class back in the Kimberley, it was not unusual for only five students out of a class of more than 20 to turn up. ‘‘Here, all my friends believe in me,’’ Wade says after another school day this week in Dural. ‘‘When I come here early in the morning, I feel like I always want to come to school.’’
Pacific Hills teacher Cathy Dearden said it was hoped the boys would be able to finish their schooling in Sydney, where the participating schools maintained close ties with Aboriginal students’ parents and family members in their home communities.
If the students return home to complete their schooling, it will be with an outlook that has been expanded beyond measure. ‘‘Now they know that at home they can access the (NSW) State Library, they have access to e-books, they have access to newspapers,’’ Ms Dearden said. ‘‘They have said to me quite a few times, ‘We’ll be taking this back to our mob’.’’
Mr Elliott said the access to boarding school places that would be offered under the Living Change policy were crucial in the push to reinstate high expectations and responsibility among Aboriginal people in Kimberley communities.
‘‘I used to be a school attendance officer, and I used to pick up the kids for school,’’ he says. ‘‘Often when you pull around to pick up kids, only was it then that parents start to get kids moving, because the bus was there. I was a bit afraid that I was becoming the authority figure in the kids’ lives.
‘‘We really need people to say: ‘This is my child, I am responsible for getting them to school.’ I don’t think chasing kids around the countryside trying to get them to school is the answer.’’