OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PAST (28)

Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (28)

Background to changes and impacts of government policy

There were pro’s and con’s to the way in which Warburton had been managed in mission days. With the coming of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972, there were changes mooted for community evolution and this was across the board. Impacts were Australia-wide. Central to the change was a determination that communities should enter into the era of self-determination and self management. (This was discussed in an earlier section of my writing.)

The intentions were good but for many communities, the practices associated with this new approach did not work well. Readiness for taking on responsibilities requires education and for people in many communities, this was not provided. Many communities took on Caucasian staff to fulfil management functions, way too many of these people being ‘found’ by advisory firms appointed to oversee the evolvement of community management. Aboriginal people living in communities were often the meat in the sandwich.

Warburton Ranges suffered because of some of these changes. European staff were often poorly prepared to take on management functions. It seemed that some accepted appointment for reasons associated with the need to be away from normal mainstream life. For some, their moves were to do with failed relationships or threatening social situations. Others were seeking to escape from unfortunate social habits including drinking and gambling. While not specifying any particular traits or habits as impacting upon staff at Warburton, it was common knowledge that these were situations that motivated some people to remote area service around Australia.

One of the things absolutely an issue was that people appointed to communities were too often not educated toward understanding the specifics of those places and the characteristics of people living therein. To this end I offer a compliment to the WA Education Department. As I was going back in 1974 as school principal, the department supported me to undertake a two week program at the Bentley Institute of Technology to facilitate my understanding of the local language, Ngaanyatjarra. The course was facilitated by one of Warburton’s long term linguists, Dorothy Hackett. Aspects of this program touched albeit briefly on social and cultural aspects of living and working in the Aboriginal community of Warburton.

With the passing of time, familiarisation programs were developed with greater or lesser success. With the above background in mind, I will return to elements more focussed the remained of our time at Warburton

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