It seems that realisation about the unrealistic burdens placed on schools by system demands and expectations has finally dawned. As Natasha Bita reveals (Teacher leaders lash new schedule, July 30,31) “Stressed school principals are demanding changes to the new national curriculum … blasting educational bureaucrats for imposing ‘cruel’ workloads.”

School leaders largely brought the impossible workloads now being confronted, upon themselves. From the mid 1980’s, the notion of ‘self managed schools’ was touted as a way of delegating departmental control for local education to schools and their councils. This devolution of responsibility was interpreted by principals as a way of building positional autonomy. The thought of enhanced recognition and status, lured many to the changes offered.

Among the ‘self managed school’ proponents were Professor Brian Caldwell (then University of Tasmania) and Mr Jim Spinks, Principal of Rosebery School on Tasmania’s west coast. They introduced this concept to NT Principals at a 1987 conference. Spinks offered a strong caution: He advised that as principals added to school accountability and curriculum responsibility, they should ‘drop off’ those components that may become dated and irrelevant. This was necessary to retain balanced and manageable responsibilities.

Some 35 years later, it is obvious that schools have become burdened with an overloaded curriculum and huge administrative workloads. School leaders and staff members are held to constant, rigorous and often unreasonable account for school outcomes. It is small wonder principals are crying ‘foul’.


The controversy over whether indigenous communities should or shouldn’t allow for consumption of alcohol within their boundaries (‘Rivers of grog’ fear as ban ends, 26.7) places me in somewhat of a bind.

Some communities, Including Numbulwar and Angurugu in Eastern Arnhemland where I worked from 1976 until 1982, were declared ‘dry’ at the time. That was 20 years before John Howard, as part of the Commonwealth intervention, mandated ‘dryness’ for all communities in August 2007. There were numerous breaches of the rules, usually by people able to get alcohol from alternative sources before returning and acting untowardly while alcohol affected. However, by and large there was adherence to the policies operating in these and other communities, which supported tranquility and relatively peaceful living.

I now live in Darwin and have seen and experienced the deleterious impact upon our urban community, created by people coming from dry communities to obtain alcohol. The desire to access alcohol is a major contributor to business and residential break-ins, which in our cities and towns have skyrocketed in recent years. Domestic violence, drunken behaviour and long grass living situations are largely behavioural by-products of people primarily focussed on wanting alcohol.

If communities are allowed to return to local supply of alcohol, this will alleviate a lot of the pressures placed on our cities and towns. However, the relative quiet of those communities, until now without alcohol, may evaporate.

The whole issue poses a cleft stick situation.

Teacher Training should be about the practice of teaching

Natasha Bita’s column (Students to plug teacher shortage, 21/7) filled me with the hope that teacher training may be going ‘back to the future’. Rejuvenating the focus of student teachers undertaking training in classrooms, under the guidance of experienced classroom practitioners, is long overdue.

Teacher training, until the late 1970’s placed significant emphasis on practice teaching. Back in those years we completed two year training programs, with periods of time each term undertaken as teachers in classrooms. We worked with students and were answerable to practised classroom teachers and visiting teachers’ college lecturers. My best learning (1968/69) was done within classroom environments.

My only worry would be that preservice teachers under a revamped training scheme, not be given ‘Carte Blanche’ classroom exposure without coaching and supervision. If they are left without guidance, there could be negative consequences. Otherwise, this proposal is a step in the right direction, one which will help training teachers learn how to teach.

At the moment, they graduate with theoretically based teaching degrees and have very had little timer in school classrooms. It is left to schools to which they are appointed as full time staff members, to then teach them to teach. Small wonder that so many become disaffected and leave a profession which could offer enduring professional satisfaction.

Is it too late to take stock of Australia’s agricultural dilemma?

It seems that Australia has as much hope of keeping foot and mouth offshore as we have had in managing the COVID-19 virus and its variants. We seem to be less good at managing situations than used to be the case because the country is now opened up to the world. We are no longer isolated and protected by distance from other parts of the globe.

Right now mites are ruining apiaries in the Newcastle area of NSW and infections are spreading like wildfire through New South Wales. It won’t be long before other states are impacted by the might and there goes our honey industry along with a lot of agriculture being decimated because pollination can no longer take place.

Here in the Northern Territory we have recurrent outbreaks of banana freckle. I’d be willing to bet that our banana industry here could again be decimated as it was three years ago.

We are increasingly being assaulted by viruses and pests that confront plants, animals and people. We are keen to keep our country free-flowing in terms of the number of visitors coming into the place. It can only be that issues associated with infections continue and that they will increase. To try and protect the place, its plants animals and its people is a battle we are losing.

Excessive Salaries for Vice Chancellors

I knew that university vice-chancellors drew generous renumeration for their services, but never imagined, as Natasha Bita writes (Call to cut vice-chancellor’s pay 19/7) they were so richly rewarded. For vice chancellors at 37 Australian universities to be averaging a salary of $1 million a year is almost obscene.

During the covid years 2202/21, universities everywhere cut back on staff and trimmed programs offered in order to save their collective bottom line. Stories of misery inflicted on staff and frustrating students number in their thousands. Seemingly V-C’s, whose decisions lead to the heartache endured were largely inviolate to austerity measures.

I concur with Bita’s suggestion that the largesse vice-chancellors enjoy is reward beyond any measure of real worth. They may be the heads of universities but the real work is done by those in subordinate management, leadership and teaching positions. Trimming their salaries to realistic levels, with money saved going toward lecturer and student benefit, should be the new way forward for these territory institutions.

Violence is Everywhere

Violence is everywhere

They talk about shielding children from awareness of violence. That is impossible. Violence is everywhere.

It is in homes as domestic violence.

It is the clause of tensions between people.

It is on our sporting fields.

It is manifest, verbally in all and physically in some of our parliaments.

It is portrayed in boxing rings as a holy grail of that sport.

It is characterised by wrestling, kick boxing and so on.

It is shown on television news.

It is all over the radio.

Print media is full of stories of violence.

It is the central theme of many online games.

Films in cinemas and entertainment programs on TV feature violence.

Perpetrators of violence are sometimes seen as villains but more often as heroes.

There are violent civil unrest spots all over the world, impacting on children.

There are civil wars within nations.

There are major wars and killing fields perpetrated between nations.

Violence is deemed necessary to create power within perpetrators.

America is full of gun violence, where mass shootings happen daily, often impacting on children.

This list is but a beginning of what might run to hundreds of points about the genesis and evolution of violence.

Shielding children from violence is impossible.

Food For The Bin


Feeding one’s kids

It seems like a sin,

You go out and buy,

Food for the bin.

Chips, yes please!

And chicken too,

On a plate the brow pluckers,

Tears tumble, “boo hoo”.

Plates pushed away,

Is it a sin,

To transfer good food,

From the shop to the bin?

“Sit there and eat it”!!

Kinds whinge and whine,

But refuse like mules,

For eons of time.

Minutes drag by,

Like hours it seems,

Food stays untouched,

What happens are screams.

“Take it away”,

Steadfast to the last,

They refuse like real martyrs,

To break their long fast.

The fast lasts as long,

As the food on the plate,

But once in the bin,

Young voices grate ..

“We’re hungry, we’re starving,

Feed us real quick,

Our tummies are empty,

With hunger we’re sick”!

What do you do?

(This you’ll regret),

Give lollies and sweet things,

Then peace you will get –

It’s only a breather,

Until the next meal,

Then it starts all over,

The next squawk and squeal.

My Wish For Wadeye


I am disappointed by what seems to be happening time after time after time, for years and years and years, at Wadeye. My wish and hope for the community is shared below. It is also a wish I hold dear for other remote communities in the NT and indeed elsewhere around Australia.

May Wadeye get good.

May peace and harmony be restored.

May children go to school (each child every day).

May substances abuse cease to be an issue.

May all suppliers of illicit drugs and illegal alcohol be apprehended, with their behaviour attracting the full force of the law.

May all weapons including knives be handed in during an amnesty period on surrender of these objects.

May alcohol in all its forms be forever dismissed from the community and may there be a resolve that people will become teetotallers.

May the community become a jewel in the crown of community management and good will.

May rancorous conduct be no more and may thoughtfulness of all residents toward each other prevail.

May there be a cessation of domestic violence.

May the community become a model of everything that is good, decent, harmonious and upright.

May children come to respect parents and elders.

May parents nurture their children and lead them in the way they should go through the example they set.

May elders imbue children and young people with heartfelt desire to forsake all that is wrong and to walk a better way.

May Wadeye become a transformed community and a desirable, attractive place.

NB: I worked in remote community situations in. WA (1970, 1974 to April 1975) and in the NT from July 1975 until December 1982.

Education gives handwriting the boot

Natasha Bita’s column (Writing lessons ‘for 15 minutes a week’, The Australian,14/7) confirms one of the deepest of concerns about the reshaping of educational priorities. The teaching of handwriting, a basic communication tool, has in far too many instances all but been abandoned.

I frequently have the chance to observe the challenges handwriting imposes on people using pens and pencils on paper. TV vision of people (of all ages) writing, reinforce the dismay I feel that handwriting is no longer taught in schools.

How to hold pencils and pens, how to position paper and how to sit comfortably when writing and importantly, how to form and join letters into a cursive writing format, are rudiments of understanding that assist handwritten communication.

For the growing numbers without these skills, handwriting looks to be everything from an uncomfortable action to pure torture.

Keyboard skills are important. So too is the ability to write legibility and with a degree of confidence and comfort that nowadays seems to be no longer educationally relevant.

Teacher Quality is an Issue

Natasha Bita’s column (‘Teaching entrance standards miss mark’, The Australian, 27/2/22) brought back memories of similar advice from over 30 years ago.

Bita reports that “cash strapped universities have offered teaching degrees to school leavers with below average tertiary entrance results.” That reminded me of advice offered Year 11 students at my son’s school toward the end of 1988. Officers from the (then) Commonwealth Department of Education were visiting to advise students on how much application and effort Year 12 would require in order to satisfy tertiary entrance requirements.

The group talked metaphorically, creating an ‘expectational ladder’ for students to contemplate. Top rung students with exceptional TER scores could consider dentistry and medicine. The advisers talked of ‘down the ladder’ scores in the 80 and 70 percentile range. A score of 60 was described as an absolute cut-off, allowing students to consider basic accountancy.

A group member then added, “but if you get less than a score of 60, there is always teaching!”.

Australia has been blessed by generations of good teachers. However, their contributions have too often been diluted by the teaching efforts of their mediocre colleagues. Far too many students have suffered at the hands of inept teachers. If universities are allowed to offer training to those who will not make the grade as classroom teachers, the mediocrity which has dogged the profession for decades will continue to be manifest.