Many people now living in Darwin, Palmerston and the Top End have never heard of the North Australian Eisteddfod. The Eisteddfod, an arts and cultural exposition available to Top End Territorians, folded nearly five years ago. It had been an institution for 48 years.

The Eisteddfod used to run for two weeks in May each year. It offered school students from our top end schools, including Katherine, Arnhemland and remote communities, the chance to display their talents to appreciative audiences.

The Eisteddfod was held at the Darwin Entertainment Centre (DEC). It provided competition in singing, instrumental performance, dance, drama, poetry, reading, speaking and other cultural areas.

There was ongoing commitment to the Eisteddfod by an organising committee of volunteers. Schools, dance companies, music groups and others participated. The program was for both students and adults as individuals, small groups and large ensembles. Entry fees were modest and affordable. Prize money, perpetual trophies and individual mementos of success were on offer.

A hiring subsidy offered by the Entertainment Centre made the venue affordable. Entry fees defrayed some of the operating costs.

In its later years, the Eisteddfod began to struggle. Costs were increasing and the program did not have a guaranteed income stream. The Department of Education offered some administrative and financial support. A substantial donation came from an anonymous supporter. However, the program was mothballed. The only thing remaining is for this Association to be formally wound up.

Several factors have contributed to the demise of this iconic annual cultural event.
* The retirement of key committee members.
* The inability of the committee to attract new members.
* The scarcity of volunteers to help stage the event.
* Lack of guaranteed income because government funding had to be applied for each year. A triennial funding arrangement would have helped but was never endorsed.
* The takeover of May, the historical Eisteddfod month, by NAPLAN programs that impacted all schools. Commitments in place made the finding of another time-slot awkward.

The Eisteddfod’s disappearance into the annals of history is deeply disappointing.

From time to time the issue of school uniforms gains traction in the press. This happened recently with the NT News reporting ructions about dress standards at Casuarina Senior College. The concerns expressed by a small group are not representative of the College as a whole.

The uniform issue in the NT goes back to the 1970’s. I have read and been told that before Cyclone Tracy school uniform was part of life for government school students, but not afterwards. Personal experience dating from 1987 is that uniform wearing in Darwin was optional for primary students and non- existent for their peers in secondary school.

Principals and school councils desirous of students wearing uniform were not supported by the Education Department or Government. Uniforms were available, but worn by a minority of children, usually those in Early Childhood. Competition to encourage uniform wearing included acknowledgement of best dressed classes each week. Some schools had mascots awarded weekly to the class with the most students in uniform.

In 2006, the Henderson Labour Government began moving in the direction of school uniforms. Department policy released in 2009 states the official position for primary and middle schools. “All students in Northern Territory Government schools from Transition to Year 9 are required to wear an authorised school uniform whilst on school premises and when attending official school activities during and after school hours. …
School uniform policies must include the following elements:

1. A requirement that students wear an authorised school uniform

2. Measures to address short and long-term exceptional circumstances that may be faced by a student or their family. For example, cultural and/or religious considerations and financial hardship.

3. Measures to address health and safety considerations such as appropriate footwear, hats and other sun protection factors.”

Since then, the uniform policy has been extended to include students in senior years Government schools.

Those attending private schools, both Catholic and Independent have always had uniforms as part of their dress code. That is one of the elements about private school education that over the years has appealed to many parents and students.

There are many positives derived from adherence to a school uniform policy:

* It builds pride in the school providing a sense of identity.
* It avoids argument and heartache caused when students feel embarrassed when not
in costly designer dress.
* It reminds students when they are in public or on excursions they are representatives
of their schools.
* It offers clothing affordability. Many schools sell second-hand uniforms in good
condition which helps defray school costs.

The introduction of dress codes for government schools is one of the best policies developed in recent years.


  1. I have such fond memories of participating in the North Australian Eisteddfod. It’s such a shame that this marvellous institution has been unable to reinvigorate itself. Voluntary committees only have a certain lifespan, I suppose. Thanks for the blog, Henry. I enjoy it.

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