Six-year-old banned from bush school: Grandmother


2425 Santayia Namatjira OKBy ERWIN CHLANDA
While Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion displays himself on national television encouraging bush kids to go to school, six-year-old Santanya Namatjira (pictured) would like to do nothing more than just that.
Trouble is, her school won’t let her, according to members of her family and friends.
When we raised the issue with the NT Education Department, all we got was a one word reply: “No.”
The question we had asked was: “Has a student been barred from the Wilora school in the past 12 months?”
Yet this is exactly what happened to Santanya, according to her mother Sally’s aunty, who lives at Wilora with Sally and Santanya, and according to Santanya’s grandmother, Elvira Namatjira, who lives in Alice Springs.
I spoke to Santanya and her mum’s aunty on the phone today, and to Elvira Namatjira on Saturday, both on the phone and in person.
Santanya said to me: “The teacher is telling me not to go to school.”
That was at 1:55pm. The girl was at home, where – according to her mother’s aunty – she spends most days.
The aunty and the grandmother both said the school’s refusal to allow the girl to attend class has been going on for about a year.
During that time Santanya spent some time with her grandmother and attended Sadadeen Primary school but she missed her friends at home and – amazingly – the school that, from all accounts, is treating her so shabbily.
Wilora is 250 kms north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway.
The accounts the family gave me tally with those of a friend of the family who asked to remain anonymous:-
“The principal of Wilora school [Marita Mckenzie] is wrongfully denying a child an education where she lives.
“She phoned the police to remove the child from the school. The removal was not necessary.  Then the principal wrongly said the mother had verbally abused her.
“The police took the mother to the school and made the mother apologize to the principal.
“A community member witnessed what happened and the whole small community is very angry with the principal,” said the friend of the family.
“I think the child should be allowed to go to school if she wants to.
“The principal keeps finding excuses and reasons why she will not have the child at school.  I have not previously heard these excuses and reasons.
“For God’s sake she is six years old.  She is not a rampant 14 year old.
“The stories that the principal has made up about the child are ridiculous and even if true the behavioural issues should have been dealt with in a reasonable fashion.”
This information has been confirmed by a person familiar with the facts but has asked not to be named.
PHOTO: Santanya Namatjira, aged six. The mark across her face is from a crease in the photograph.
UPDATE 4:35pm
We received the following message from the NT Department of Education at 3:58pm:
“The department does not have any record of a student being suspended or barred from Wilora School for the past 12 months.
“This has been confirmed by the relevant department representatives and no further comment will be provided to this, given we do not have any factual evidence to support your statement.”
ED: Our question was whether a student had been barred in the past 12 months, not for the past 12 months.
Further, my request of 9:23 am to “ask someone from the NT Government with detailed information about the matter to ring me” is clearly being rejected.


  1. This is just terrible! Talk about the difference between black and white? Would this be allowed to happen to a white child in a town school? I don’t think so!
    What are education staff doing? Why and how on earth can this happen to a six year old? Its the systemic racism isn’t it?
    The education department are denying but the child the family and the community are all under the impression that it is happening. The community is angry. They should be. If this principal or what ever is allowed to treat one child like this is there a possibility she could treat another child or others like this. What’s behind all this?
    Come on, my Aboriginal brothers and sisters, rise up and help this child? Help us all now and in the future.
    Do something! Make a noise. We shouldn’t have to take this crappy treatment.
    Change this BS for future generations. Cry out, let the world know how they treat us and our children.

  2. @ Outraged: Why be so outraged without the facts. There are always two sides to every story, but your first reaction is that the system is racist. After firstly claiming its racist, your next question is: What’s behind this?
    Is the principal white or black? If they are white, you fail to mention they have undertaken to make an effort to close the gap by working in such a remote community, and if she is black, it is hardly racism.
    How pathetic you sound, tell the world how they treat us.
    While you are at it, tell the world of all the funding that is received, tell them about how this principal could simply take a job in an affluent east coast or urban school, but chooses to instead to ensure education for remote Aboriginal kids.
    I notice you say nothing about the ones that actually are attending this school.
    Your poor bugger me attitude is a disgrace, and is part of the reason the gap will never close. What a shame.

  3. Dear Ray, it looks to me like you are trying to say it is right for a six year old to be banned from school! Shame on you!

  4. It amazes me that people can react so readily, without having ANY insight.
    I guess you were never told not to believe everything you read.
    Have you talked to the community?
    Have you talked to the police?
    Have you been into the school and witnessed for yourself how the school operates?
    Have you seen how the other children in the school are engaged?
    Have you seen the school resources?
    Are you aware of ANYTHING except another opportunity to “blame others”.
    Maybe this principal has standards for the children in her care – and dare I say high standards!
    Think again dear people before you are so quick to judge.

  5. Questions for the Education Department:
    Has she been tested for hearing loss?
    Have her family circumstances been checked out by a social worker or Aboriginal support worker?
    Has there been a family conference and is the school working with the family?
    If the answers to the above questions is “no” then the rights of this child have been ignored and this is a child protection issue.

  6. I think, Ronnie, the principal’s standards and abilities are very low if they cannot manage to let a six year old, who wants to go to school, and whose family wants her to go to school, to go to school.
    This seems to be one of those “power over” situations when the white fulla has all the power over the Aboriginal fullas, and yes, Aboriginals are there for you to criticize.
    The whole point of the article is the little six year old is not allowed to go to school and this leaves her vulnerable to all you adult people to blame her.
    How can it be her fault? She is six years old.
    It is the obligation of education employees to ensure she is able to get an education.
    Otherwise why do taxpayers pay taxes and teachers for them to muck kids lives up?
    Think again, you adult, who is saying it is right to for an adult employee of education to deny a six year old her education?

  7. Without all the information it is difficult to make a proper assessment but all children of that age should be encouraged to attend school.
    Some may be difficult but there is usually good in everyone although sometimes it may be difficult to find.
    The child should be at school unless the proper procedures are followed as have been mentioned by others.
    Where are the social workers who deal with children and families? Have they been involved?
    If not why not?
    If there is a problem it needs to be dealt with correctly without blame or prejudice.
    Education is for everyone and is essential.
    No indiscretion by a six year old should be sufficient to exclude a child from school longer than four days – if that.


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