Thursday, July 25, 2024

The freedom of the press still furnishes that check upon government which no constitution has ever been able to provide – Chicago Tribune.

HomeVolume 28Country is the classroom

Country is the classroom


Bernadine Johnson, Ricky Ryder, Aureole Perkins, Therese Johnson and Arthur Webb are wandering in search of the purple-flowered plant awele awele, the bush tomato. Looking for bush tucker was a weekend pursuit.

How gratifying to see these activities continuing apace in the formal structure provided by Children’s Ground/ Ampe-kenhe Ahelh. It’s audacious program encourages cross-cultural confidence through inter-generational teaching on their family homelands.

Country is the premier classroom where pre-school kids learn and read Country and culture by seeing and feeling it. They learn their identity, responsibilities, language and relevant stories; art, science and history come in the one package.

Some weekends I’d pack the trailer with blankets, flour drum, tealeaf, billies, and kids, cram the cabin with adults and drive a few kilometres east to search for vine-bearing alangwe/bush banana, tjabe/witchetty grub, antyetyerre/frogs burrowed in creek beds, wild tomato, yam and yalke/bush onion.

Parents and grandparents tended the cooking, heated lengths of fencing wire to inscribe patterns on music sticks, and had the coals ready for the kids’ bounty, or ‘roo if the men got lucky. When my own kids were old enough they joined their Whitegate peers.

For the first time I troweled on thick white latex impasto to enhance the suggestion of the rough and prickly turf those young feet encountered.

White paint characterised many early works in attempts to capture the scintillating luminosity.

PAINTING by Rod Moss.


  1. There are no Warlpiri words to describe anything inside a classroom. No sky, no open spaces, no footprints on the ground, no plants, no animals, no rocks.
    The only moving changing thing is the other children. They are constantly aware of precisely where they all are, their every move and word amplified by the extreme lack of stimulation and the confinement of the four walls.
    To these children the classroom is an empty desert, barren and uninteresting. As the teachers struggle to create a positive learning environment for the students, fights break out for no apparent reason.
    School attendance and scholastic achievement as measured by non-Warlpiri parameters remain stubbornly low.
    On school excursions the children blossom as they excitedly explore and learn about their country. Warlpiri teachers and elders play an important role and non-Warlpiri teachers learn a thing or two. This enhances mutual respect, a necessary ingredient in the effective running of the school.
    The authorities increasingly stifle efforts to recognise that country is the classroom.
    To organise a school trip these days requires school staff to fill in many forms and tick many boxes. Sometimes children are excluded from a school trip because permission could not be obtained in time or as some form of disciplinary measure. Such children are less motivated to come back to school.
    The Department of Education insists that older Warlpiri taking part in school trips be formally employed. The time consuming and difficult recruiting process results in fewer and fewer older Warlpiri being given the opportunity to share their knowledge in the school environment.
    The painting clearly shows that Rod Moss gets it. A pity that those who control our education system don’t.


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