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Ngalangangpum School - its history
  Principal's Annual Report 2005 2006 2007   wangkarnal


History of the School:

Ngalangangpum School was established in May 1979 at the request of the Warmun community. At the time, most children were enrolled in St Joseph’s School in Wyndham, only returning to Warmun for the holidays. This was not a satisfactory situation. People were worried that the children would lose their traditional culture and language in the town setting.


 In 1973 the Whitlam government adopted the policy of self-determination for Aborigines. Communities were encouraged to take initiatives to control their own lives. At Strelley, in the Pilbara region, the Aboriginal community responded by establishing their own style of school. The Warmun community showed similar enthusiasm and determination in lobbying for its own school

What kind of school did the people want?

From the outset it was clear for the Warmun people that they wanted a Two-Way School for their children. They were aware that it was essential for their children to gain the educational skills that would enable them to deal with the wider society. At the same time they were emphatic that it was equally necessary for the children to be instructed in traditional skills and cultural values. They decided that the community members would be responsible for these latter aspects of the educational program. 
The majority of people were also adamant that the school be Catholic. Links with the church were strong since some community members had brought back the Catholic faith from a leprosarium in Derby. In Warmun, Catholic beliefs had been integrated in the belief system of the Dreaming. Besides, as the only experience most families had of formal education was that provided at mission schools, they had confidence in the appointment of Catholic sisters.
In 1979 a contract was signed by the Community Chairman and the Bishop of Broome. One of the main elements of the contract was the statement regarding the community’s ownership of the school and the agreement by the Church authority to acknowledge that ownership. In addition, the Church agreed to assist the community to achieve the type of education its members desired for their children. This included a partnership between the Anglo-Australian staff and the locally appointed school personnel. Warmun Community would choose the members of the School Board, who bore responsibility for the appointments of staff, building plans and school policies. Two sisters of Saint Joseph, Clare Ahern and Theresa Morellini, were employed to provide for a curriculum suited to the needs of the children. Sister Ahern became the first principal of the school.










 Starting up the school

the tree school 
In May 1979 Ngalangangpum School became a reality. Two sisters of Saint Joseph had arrived and the children had returned to their families. As the school building was not completed yet, lessons started under a large tree in Garden Area. This was a central position where all adults could become involved. The main teaching materials were leaves, pebbles, chalk, slates and sticks. Old car bodies were sometimes used as desks. Meanwhile men from the community built a bough shed, which provided a more pleasant teaching environment. Later, they built a basketball court and installed playground equipment.

The women planted trees, lawns and shrubs, which they tended and nurtured. From the beginning they have also run the school community kitchen, where lunch is prepared each day for the children. 
Some of the older men and women took on the responsibility of teaching the Kija language, as well as acting as storytellers and demonstrators of traditional art, craft, song and dance techniques.

  the first bough shed

At first boys and girls were separated for language and cultural sessions, but as this presented a difficulty in regard to the daily Kija input, soon approval was given for mixed instruction. Bush trips were organized as well, so that the children were able to learn in a practical way.

It was the adults wish that stories relating to activities like bush trips were recorded in a Two-Way fashion. For this aim the Kija Language Program came into being and a linguist was appointed. 
Over the years, a great deal of book production has eventuated. Care has been taken to involve community members in supplying story content and appropriate graphics. In more recent years, some of the younger people have been involved in the actual production of books, charts and audio-visual language materials.










Progression of the school
Since the mid 80s, the school has gradually been extended to cater for the needs of a growing population of children.
The library was started and two classrooms were built in the new school building. In 1985 the pre-primary building was erected. Beforehand all pre-school activities were carried out in the open. 
By 1987 the school needed upgrading. Community members had a final voice in the decision-making about the exact placement of school buildings on their land. One of the decisions they made was that all school buildings should face a certain bloodwood tree, which has historical significance for many families. New classrooms were built and the Sisters, who used to live in a part of the school building, got their own place.

As in most Kimberley schools there was no secondary education in Warmun until 1990. Children who wanted to continue their education, had to attend boarding school in Broome. Many preferred to stay with their families or dropped out early. The dream of providing secondary education locally was made possible in 1990 and families were overjoyed. As one of the elders remarked:


We've been teachin' these kids all the way. Language way, corroboree way, Ngapuny way we've been teachin' them. Then when they're ready for learnin' properly way about the law; they're gone from us.

When they come back, we don't know what they've been learnin' and sometimes they don't want to listen to us any more. That makes us properly sad and makes us think: 'Ah, we're just wastin' time with them kids'.

   (in: Ryan 2001: 317)


Now, responsibility for their children's education was back in the hands of parents and grandparents.

In 2001 the school building was upgraded again. The library at the southern end was extended to include the old store room and now provides a very good reading area for the children. As Sister Ellen, librarian, says: "The children love to read and borrow books, especially books with Aboriginal stories."

New administration offices and a new staff room came into being as well. The computer room was extended and at the moment consists of ten computers for the students to work on. The use of cd-roms for developing mathematical and language skills has become very common in Ngalangangpum School.


the library

the computer room

In December 2002 the first two students in Ngalangangpum School completed their Foundation Studies. This was accompanied by a celebration and community members are very proud of the accomplishment of these two students. It is an important step towards a future in which Aboriginal students can be in more control of their lifes and the development of their communities. Maybe one time they can be teachers themselves, or even principals!

Read more about the history of Warmun Community and Ngalangangpum School in 'From digging sticks to writing sticks'. This elaborated book contains the stories of Kija women as told to Veronica Ryan who for many years was principal at Ngalangangpum School.

Published in 2001 by Catholic Education Office of Western Australia