The Northern Territory Beckons (2)

About three months after we arrived in Perth, I saw an advertisement in “The Western Australian“, advertising on behalf of the Commonwealth Teaching Service in Canberra for teachers to go to the Northern Territory. We began to think that from the beginning of 1976 the Territory might be a place for us to consider. With that in mind, I made inquiries of the Commonwealth Teaching Service office in Perth about the possibility of an appointment from the beginning of the following school year. All in all, this was just an inquiry and the first lodgement of a verbal expression of interest in the possibility of appointment by the Commonwealth Teaching Service to the Northern Territory.

Within 24 hours of having enquired about the Northern Territory and possibilities for 1976, We were rung up and offered appointments either at Snake Bay (Milikapati) on Melville Island, or at Numbulwar on the Rose River. We were asked to consider one or the other location and told the appointment, if we accepted, would be immediate

We were keen to leave the Western Australian Education Department in good standing. A requirement if resigning was that a month’s notice of intention to resign had to be given. To jump ship and rocket off, would be frowned upon. Without a ‘good standing’ departure, we would never be welcomed back into WA Education, should we ever want to return.

Resignation had too be negotiated through the school principal, so I had a conversation with Mr Griffith. Ken was able to organise for us to resign, in effect giving less than a month’s notice, by backdating the date of our handing in resignation documents. His understanding and support were deeply appreciated. In fact, many of the leadership nuances I observed in Ken, became elements of the Principalship practices I tried to emulate through my own leadership performance.

With our movement to the Northern Territory all but confirmed, we were contacted by the Commonwealth Teaching Service (CTS) office and asked to come in for an interview as this important detail had been overlooked.

The formalities were completed, and our goods divided into two consignments. The firmest consignment was goods going into storage and the seconds for items we were having shipped to Darwin and them onto the barge service from Darwin to Numbulwar.

On returning to Perth we had purchased a Datsun 180B. This we were putting into storage in Perth with arrangements made to ship our Mini Moke (the one we had at Warburton in 1974/75) to Numbulwar.

Things were now moving quickly.


Living in Nollamara, Teaching at Glendale (1)

When transferred from Warburton Ranges at the end of April 1975, we were appointed as teachers to Glendale Primary School in Hammersley, a northern suburbs school in Perth. We were renting a house in Nollamara and we’re probably lucky to obtain that rental at short notice after leaving Warburton Ranges. Just for a short period between leaving and obtaining the rental we lived in a caravan.

The Principal of Glendale was an outstanding man by name of Ken Griffith. I found him to be of great support and understanding – whether he knew about our departure from Warburton or not! The interesting thing about our departure was the fact that the various allowances that I had for being at Warburton were maintained in my salary package and not stripped away. The “transfer” from Warburton was not at our behest but instituted by the Department of Education Western Australia as being “In its and in our best interest.” As my allowances had been for the whole of 1975, they were maintained.

(The “best interests“ of education in terms of the department at Warburton Ranges soon took off a life of their own. Shortly after we left behavioural difficulties erupted in and around the school. And the place was being taken apart.

The behaviour of students and young people in the school at Warburton after hours in over the weekends was dysfunctional and damaging to the point of fairly quickly leading to lead stories in newspapers, particularly “The Sunday Independent“, about what was happening on the school premises. It was pleasing to me in a rather sad sort of way that with our departure, things had rapidly gone downhill. To me that proved we were on the right track and that we were doing things that we appreciated whilst at Warburton Ranges.)

While the school and senior staff are Glendale were supportive, our living situation was uncomfortable. Part of this had to do with the fact that our three preschool age children had to go into childcare and we did not see them from morning until night. At the end of the school day we had a little time for shopping and the only time really that was available was Saturday morning. (Remember, during these years shopping hours was significantly less than what they are now and weekend trading was limited to Saturday morning.

Living and working in Perth was a far from ideal situation. Fortunately, this period was to be mercifully short.

Living and working in Perth was a far from ideal situation. Fortunately, this period was to be mercifully short.



A great deal is made of the need for interpreters and translators to support Indigenous Australians in the NT who are said to have no understanding of English. English has been the dominant and prime teaching language in all schools, including remote schools, since the 1960’s and 70’s. To say that people have little or no understanding of English is totally wrong.

Speech and speaking clubs like Toastmasters are offered a new challenge; developing within members and through community workshops, the ability to speak clearly, expressively and audibly while wearing masks. With this facial coverage becoming an ongoing and prescribed need, such training is becoming essential.


The closure of ‘Flip Out’ will be very disappointing for many children and young people in Darwin and the Top End. One after another, venues catering for the recreational needs of youth seem to be closing their doors. Hopefully this will not be a continuing trend, because they need things to do and places to go.


Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (37)


I just wanted to reiterate that these reflections have been focused on professional issues associated with being at Warburton Ranges during the period reported.

There were lots of personal anecdotes and interesting experiences otherwise that took place during our time in this location. To reflect upon these within the setting of the document of this nature would be inappropriate. Anecdotal comment on personalities and appreciation are best confined to a different forum.

To that end, there was plenty that happened of a more social and personal nature upon which I often reflect.

What I may do is simply to make a list of these reflections as I recall them without going into written detail. Heading for one line about an incident generally suffices.

If anyone would like a consolidated copy of these reflections posted over the last few months, please contact me either in a message on this site or to my email and I’d be happy to send you an email of these Episodes as a single document.

Similarly, if you have any questions you’d like to ask about our time at Warburton or my thoughts about Indigenous education and community development, please feel free to make contact.

Henry Gray

February 15 2022



Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (36)

In our closing period of time at Warburton, Civil and Civic were building a new hospital. It was divided into wards, an emergency department and other specialist areas. This project included a number of buildings most with circling verandahs and each overhung with a metal panoply roof to facilitate ventilation and cooling. Each building was also semi elevated

As the buildings were constructed, they became inviting play arenas for children. The verandahs were terrific play areas, while the space between building roofs and panoplys were great for upstairs activities. I often wondered how the company went in terms of completing the project and handing keys over to the health department. Contractors were certainly challenged while the work was being done. This was compounded by the fact that any damage caused by mischief was the contractor’s responsibility to fix.

We were in Perth for a few brief weeks after Warburton and before departing for the Northern Territory. On reflection during those weeks I dwelt that we had done a reasonable job, one with the best educational and developmental needs of children at heart. So it was with mixed feelings that I followed what happened after our departure.

Following our departure and on the appointment of a successor, all hell erupted at Warburton. There were stories on the radio news of children wreaking mayhem in and around the school. Within a month of our departure one of Perth’s weekend papers ‘The Sunday Independent’ ran a front page story about the fact that things were out of control at Warburton School. A segment of the story reported that after hours children were getting into the main school building and among other activities were riding bikes up and down the corridor that linked the classrooms. We most certainly had never ever had that type of behaviour manifest while at Warburton.

This news stirred mixed feelings in my soul. On the one hand I was not happy that this level of flagrant behaviour was occurring but on the other, considered it ‘payback’ or ‘reaction’ by children that we were no longer at Warburton.

The memory of one conversation I had with a senior officer within the WA Education Department during this period caused me to shudder at the time and remains with me as a memory of ‘blight’ within the then upper echelons of WA Education. It was put upon me that we were working in a way that was ‘over-educating’ remote area Indigenous students, who would not be able to use the understanding toward which they were being educated. That was a sad statement statement and one that I would never forget.

Regardless of what, my aim was always toward children reaching their full potential. Then and over the years to my retirement from front line educational delivery some 37 years later.


– Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (35)


The culmination of our experience and our exit from Warburton was based in large part on what followed a visit to Warburton in April 1975 by a very senior person within the WA Education hierarchy. As a staff cohort, we were given to understand that our tenure at Warburton had several benefits, including enhanced salary, rent free accomodation and a few other so called perks. Paid travel to and from the community to coincide with commencement and end of terms was one of these considerations. One of these benefits for me was being promoted to a headmasters position years before that might happen in a town or urban school. The shortcomings in conditions under which we lived and worked were understood but were offset by the several benefits outlined.

On the basis of the pro’s and con’s attached to our appointments, we should “…sit tight, shut up and not rock the boat.”

The visitors left by plane for Perth after their visit and meeting with us as a staff group. For a long time, the conditions of living and working at Warburton in facilities terms had been substandard. The lack of physical consideration had impacted alike on staff and students.

The lack of empathy by Education Department and system leaders, prompted me to suggest that we compose a telegram to the then Premier of WA Charles (letter Sir Charles) Court outlining our concerns. The telegram took some time to compile and ended up running to over 200 words. We pointed out the deficiencies and the challenges with which we were confronted. Included were details about promises about improvements that had never been actioned. The strong inference conveyed in the message was that words and promises were deemed a sufficient response to requests for action: Action that never eventuated.

There was no privacy about the telegram. It was transmitted by VJY radio during the regular schedule for sending and receiving telegrams and could be heard (and transcribed) by anyone tuned into the session. So the message was sent. It was sent under my name and concluded with the fact that we had been told to do what was impossible. It was not possible to ” sit tight, shut up and not rock the boat.”


The telegram sent obviously touched a chord somewhere in the Premier’s Department. Within a very few weeks, money had been allocated to begin addressing some of the key issues of need. Workers authorised by the Public Works Department were dispatched to Warburton to begin undertaking some of the key work that was so necessary and so long overdue.

The reaction from within the Department of Education head office was as equally as prompt. We were relieved of our teaching duties at Warburton and relocated to an appointment in Perth.

Within four months, we began our teaching careers at Numbulwar (then Rose River) in the Northern Territory. That may be a story for another time.


Our last period of time at Warburton was marked by what I regard as some solid academic and personal progress by students. Parents and the community were generally supportive and could see our commitment to the educational roles we were filling within the community. Relating to people as equals was an attribute that built relationships. Not distancing from children in class, while at the same time ensuring respectful relationships also worked well. (That should be the way it is in all classrooms.)

Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (34)

From quite early in 1974, it was apparent that we were largely on our own when it came to remote area education. We had to be imaginative, resourceful and able to find answers to problems and solutions to challenges. This was both educationally and in the wider social context of our living and working at Warburton. I found that the twelve months we had spent there in 1970, certainly helped when it came to me fulfilling the role of headmaster.

In overall terms, 1974 was a challenging year, in part because we were beholden to a system that, with respect, did not put a lot of credence in or value on education for remote area Aboriginal children. That was well drawn to my attention when I approached senior officers in the Western Australian Education Department at the end of 1974 with a request for additional teaching staff. A very high level officer told me that if I could persuade someone to come to Warburton as a teacher in 1975, that would be fine. The officer however was not going to appoint someone as a teacher by way of normal process because that could be a pyrrhic imposition upon them.

The officer also told me that the Department had and kept Aboriginal schools open because of legislative requirements binding educational delivery. I was told by this person that a personal preference would be to close all Aboriginal schools, with the students and their parents being encouraged to go back to the bush where they all belonged.

(I am writing this section carefully, with a view to avoiding any possibility of identifying any person. I am also using language that is scripted to take out any unseemly language that was offered to me in dialogue.)

Suffice it to say I was able to identify a couple who were prepared to accept appointment from the commencement of the 1975 school year. We had one member of staff depart at the end of 1974 so had a net gain of one extra for the start of the 1975 school year.

Going forward into 1975 was not a happy period in overall living with the distress I felt as headmaster was the fact that the living and working needs we had, were brushed to one side by authorities with whom issues were raised.

It was hard to get any action to improve our conditions from the Western Australian Public Works Department as it was then titled. There was little response to needs from the education department although we were favoured with visits from time to time.

Although not able to prove ‘white-anting ‘ I suspect there was a little dissatisfaction with my insistence on us doing the best we could to develop quality teaching based on professional practice. In reflecting in years beyond Warburton on this issue and knowing more now than I did then about who was able to get into influential ears, I know this to be more than mere speculation.


Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (33)

The further thoughts I want to share related to my perceptions of Indigenous Education at the time as it was regarded by educational authorities, particularly those with whom I connected with the WA Education Department.

Our appointment to Warburton was as a result of an approach made by the head of school staffing in WA, asking that we consider a twelve month appointment to what turned out to be the most remote school in Western Australia. An incentive was that after twelve months, the department would do its best to offer an appointment in a school or location of choice.

Our tenure at Warburton in 1970 was for the twelve months of that year. As a teacher on probation, I learned a great deal, and developed a beginning appreciation of the importance of learning what to do by learning what not to do.

From 1971 – 1973 I was Headteacher at Gillingarra Primary School, a one teacher school about 40 kilometres south of Moora, a regional centre and our home town. This appointment more or less fitted our circumstances at the time and I had requested that school if it was vacant.

Toward the end of 1973, I asked the department to consider us for a return to Warburton Ranges, with my wife as a teacher and for me to be appointed as Headmaster. (There must have been something about our twelve months three years earlier that was drawing us back.) Suffice it to say, our request for transfer was granted and we returned to Warburton for the start of the 1974 school year.

Aspects of our experiences have been discussed in previous pages. In writing, I have avoided negatives, the naming of people and personal, private circumstances. My writing has focussed on what might be termed experiential association with and within this community. However, in terms of evolving educational policy and as intimated, I need to prise a little into negative perceptions. Educational outcomes are driven as much by negative as they are by positive circumstances. It was my reaction to some of the negative contexts of policy and practice that lead to our departure from Warburton in April 1975. These matters are detailed in the next section.


Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (32)

WD Scott, a management consultancy group had the overall responsibility for working with the community toward ongoing development. One of the projects that was planned and then initiated was the provision of deep sewage for the community. That necessitated the creation of deep trenches in strategic areas around the community to accomodate the new system. One of those trenches ran the length of the community from west to east, with the trench passing down the main thoroughfare past the hospital, school and store. Next to the store was an underground petrol storage tank holding some thousands of litres along with the petrol bowser. Other fuels were stored in drums on ramps adjacent to the satire and within the storage yard.

The community’s introduction to the blasting was an almighty explosion that happened after school one afternoon. We were relaxing at home when an huge explosion rent the air. Our whole house shook and shuddered. A glass light cover over a bed fell down on the spot which had been vacated only minutes before the blast. Then rocks which had been blasted from the trench being developed began raining down on the roof of our house, the one next door and the school.

Just minutes after the explosion, serious consultation was entered into with the blasters. It was determined that some ‘adjustments’ to process would need to be made.

The halt was only temporary. Shortly after school commenced the next day, blasting resumed. Children sitting at desks in the classrooms looked at each other as the first blast rent the air. Then in unison they exclaimed ‘yapu, yapu’ (rocks, rocks) and dived under desks split seconds before rocks began raining on the school roof. Parents and relations quickly arrived, children exited the school and left for proverbial ‘greener pastures’ with their parents and caregiving relations.

There were a few more blasts, children diving under desks and rocks falling on the school roof. In fact, rocks were raining down on other parts of the community. A group of young fellas were sitting on the ground floor of the disused church, playing cards. A decent sized rock came through the roof and landed in the middle of the card playing group. They exited in a hurry, abandoning the game in what had once been God’s House.

More investigation revealed that the blasting program was minus blasting mats that should have been used to smother the area being blasted, thus minimising flying rocks and debris. Short, not longer fuzes had been provided with the explosives, dramatically reducing the interval between blasts when multiple charges were set.

It was left to a very fleet-of-foot local to light the fuzes and then run like the wind in order to keep ahead of the rain of rocks and fragments that followed him as the blasts went off.

My reaction to these happenings was to make contact with authorities in Kalgoorlie who put a stay to the program until the person in charge ( who turned out to be not qualified for such work) had undertaken the appropriate training and received accreditation for the knowledge he acquired.

Maybe the stopping of the work was timely for another reason. Blasting has dent shockwaves through the ground, causing the underground concrete tank holding fuel for purchase by customers, to crack and begin leaking. There could have been one gigantic explosion had escaping fuel and vapours ignited.


Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (31)

There has always been a need for teacher training programs to consider those who might be thinking of teaching in remote community situations. The importance of this was (and is) in part to disavow those considering remote teaching of false and fanciful notions based more on romantic misunderstanding than pragmatic reality. First impressions of remote communities are not always lasting one, especially for those who visit briefly and then return to full time occupation after a fleetingly cursory first glance.

As a person who worked in remote communities in both WA and later the NT as both a teacher and principal, I can say quite unequivocally that preservice teaching in remote communities is best predicated by offering exposure to communities during training years.

In these modern times, that opportunity has largely gone by the bye. However, during our time at Warburton, that opportunity was provided.

During 1974, we accepted student teachers from Mount Lawley College of Advanced Education, which later became part of the Edith Cowan University. Our acceptance of students required us to provide them with accomodation and look after them for meals as well as supervising their practice teaching rounds. We were happy to do this and connect with what was an enlightened preservice teaching program conducted by Mount Lawley.

Students were supported by the College as well as by ourselves. There was a strong three way connection between our Warburton teachers, the students (two females and one male) and Mount Lawley supervising staff. At the end of the practice teaching period, the students had decided that remote area teaching was not for them. While some might consider their decision a waste of time and resources, I did not see it that way. Over the years, there have been far too many teachers who have decided on remote teaching, only to become disillusioned by the reality of their living and working experiences.

(It would be good if prospective teachers were given the chance to make considered decisions about remote appointments, but unfortunately this opportunity is rarely offered. Systems are keen to staff remote schools so the ‘sink or swim’ option too often becomes the way things are done. Lack of training funds is part of the problem, along with universities being keen to graduate teachers, then leaving their placement to education systems.)

I felt that Mount Lawley staff gained a great deal of understanding about the teaching competencies and personal characteristics those wanting to teach in remote areas should possess. Their learnings were put to good use in developing programs aimed at cross cultural understanding. We appreciated the opportunity to join with the Mount Lawley program, to share in teaching and learning opportunities the program afforded. Our inputs I know were taken into account with the development and shaping of ongoing preservice programs