OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PAST Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1970 (13

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Some of the children we taught were young people with a great deal of potential. Sadly (as will be shown in a later segment) the expectations held for Indigenous children in WA (and elsewhere) were, in the 1970’s (and following years), well below par. At that time, awareness of the world outside Warburton was strictly limited because these were the days prior to modern communication technologies available in 2021. Outback transceivers an d receivers through VJY two-way radio was the only communication available with the outside world. And in 1970, there was only one such unit at Warburton, controlled by the mission managed hospital.

In those days, the school year was divided into three terms, with two weeks holiday at the end of term one (May) and term two (September). There were eight weeks of holiday at the end of each school year.

During the 1970 May school holidays, we drove out from Warburton to Perth, then up to Moora (our home town in WA about 150 kilometres north of Perth) before returning to Warburton via Kalgoorlie, Leonora and Laverton. This was quite a lengthy round trip in our Holden EH Utility. In those days there were no seat belts and no limit of three people to the bench seat of a utility or any other vehicle.

In order to offer them an appreciation of the wider world and to broaden their horizons, we took two students out with us for the holiday period. Pamela Brown was a daughter of a senior Pitjantjatjara Elder who had four wives and quite a number of children. Helen Ward was a keen young student and like Pamela always did her very best at school. We thought these girls would benefit from an opportunity to experience life beyond Warburton.

It was very hard to judge just how the wider world impacted on the two girls but I would vouchsafe their learning was significant and that they had a lot to relay back to family and those at Warburton on their return. In the years to come Helen Ward became a respected educator filling a significant role in schools that were set up within the Ngaanyatjarra cohort of schools. These girls were exemplary in terms of their conduct and behaviour (including their ability to acclimatise and adjust to the various situations confronted) during our time away from Warburton during that holiday period.

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