Yipirinya boarding facility: Questions remain

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By ERWIN CHLANDA

Key details about the proposed $12m Yipirinya boarding facility remain unclear while the Federal Opposition has further assured its support for the project in a meeting with the school’s board of Aboriginal elders.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, and Shadow Minister for Education, Senator Sarah Henderson, said the school is “like a family” when they visited the campus yesterday.

Senator Price said it is “for the most vulnerable children within our community.

“A lot of very serious issues they are confronted with in our streets. Those kids need a better start in life.”

But in a statement on Saturday Lingiari Federal Member Marion Scrymgour said she had not been able to get clear answers about the project and she favoured a facility accessible to all schools in town.

However, Principal Gavin Morris said the school council opposed sharing with other schools, open to “a range of different students that are coming from different backgrounds and schools, cultures and language groups. Won’t work.

Senators Henderson and Price and Dr Morris.

“That’s not the model that’s being proposed here. A boarding school model at Yipirinya is what we are asking for.”

Ironically, despite this statement’s rejection of a what could be a multi-group or multi-cultural facility, Dr Morris touts Yipirinya as Australia’s only school teaching in four Aboriginal languages: “We are the only school, of type, in Australia. This has come from our elders.”

Senator Henderson referred to aid for dysfunctional families as well as some children “who travel up to 280 km a day, about three hours on a bus.” This is not tenable for proper learning.

She said more than 300 students are “attending” this community school.

However, Principal Gavin Morris said yesterday the attendance is only 50% of enrolment.

“You need to be very careful how you analyse enrolment and attendance in Aboriginal context,” he said.

“Active enrolment is a student who has been to school one day in the last 20. And that’s true in any school around the country. At this point we have more than 300 active enrolments.”

According to its website the school employs 90 staff of whom 65% are Aboriginal, a staff to student enrolment ratio of 3.3 to 1 or 1.7 children to 1 staff attendance ratio.

By how much the staff numbers will rise at Yipirinya if a boarding facility is created remains unclear.

MORRIS: We need to staff the accommodation, naturally. A lot of the staff members who will get those positions are likely to be family members of those children. Which is why the model will work. The students will feel safe. They will feel they belong.

NEWS: Does the $12m cost include accommodation for the parents who are also staff members?

MORRIS: The project has a “focus on the kids” but there will be accommodation for the staff.

HENDERSON: Every boarding school in the country makes provision for adults [who] are required to stay in the boarding school to supervise the children.

MORRIS: All the logistics we need to work out in the next little bit. The logistics around numbers and staff ratios and parent ratios is detail that will come out as it comes to hand.

NEWS: How many dwellings will there be for parents and how much will they cost?

MORRIS: All the detail is coming to hand now as this project comes to life.

HENDERSON: It is an integrated facility. The adults who are here supervising the children are here, in the school. That’s what every boarding school requires – adult supervision. And the school makes the determination about the best adults that should be working at the school as well.

NEWS: Would the parents acting as supervisors be staff and would paid be paid?

MORRIS: I’ve got parents and staff in emergency accommodation all around Alice Springs. [This reply does not answer the question.]

The number of students in the facility also remain equally unclear.

In a question from the Alice Springs News Dr Morris said there would be between 40 and 50.

JOURNALIST at a doorstop yesterday says previously it was stated there would be accommodation for 24 students and now you are saying there would be 40 or 50 students.

MORRIS: Certainly the first concept plan was for around sort of the 15 to 30 sort of numbers but there is flexibility in that number.

Senator Price responded to a question from the News on Saturday whether she had declared an interest as her mother, Bess, was an assistant principal at the school.

PRICE: I made that very clear from the outset when my mother was first involved as part time employed here that the focus has been about the children in the community.

She pointed out that in any project in the Northern Territory “there is probably a family member involved. Because that’s just the nature of being an Indigenous person in the Territory [who has] family and kin right across the Northern Territory”.

Senator Price said Ms Scrimgour, MLA Chansey Paech and ALP Senator Malarndirri McCarthy are likely to be “in the same boat”.

MORRIS: Bess is not a deputy principal of the school. She is a cultural leader. Bess does not have a teacher registration so she can’t be an assistant principal.

The school newsletter for Term 1 this year states there are three assistant principals, Bess Price being one.

Senator Henderson said: “We’ve not seen any expenditure for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the education portfolio since the Albanese Government was elected.”

Asked whether the boarding project funding should come out of the recent $250m special Federal grant for Alice Springs, both Senators said no, it should not come out of that amount but should be funded separately.

PHOTO at top: Gavin Morris, Yepirinya staff member to be named in update, Jacinta Price, Shanona Stevens, Brenda Inkamala, Jennifer Inkamala, Patrick Nandy, Sarah Mangaraka and Christine Davis.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Am I reading this correctly?
    Some parents and their kids will be accommodated at Yipirinya with the parents paid to look after their kids.
    So the taxpayer funds housing and full board (meals etc) for families along with payment for parental duties.
    During holidays families would be paid the government boarding allowance.
    These benefits are only available to the relatives of one particular family.

  2. So Bess is a cultural lead? She’s Warlpiri, not Arrente.
    Which communities are a 280km round trip to/from the school?
    What time does the driver leave Alice and pick up the kids?
    What time do they get home?

  3. @ Phil Walcott: That is the first thing I thought of as well. Kids traveling so far every day.
    I want this to be real but the story does not add up. The Liberal past will haunt them for many years.
    Not sure if the other side is going to do any better as they want to dispel that Labor cannot manage money.
    This the root of all of Australia’s problems at the moment. The movement of money is more important than the people living in this country.
    An economy is about people. It should not be measured by GDP but GDH.
    If you look at the crime rates and anger within society we know GDH is very low at the moment.

  4. I would have to disagree with the funding of accommodation to Yipirinya School.
    The school history of board misconduct and mismanagement is extensive. Not to mention the children who attend the school vandalised the school to the point in 2020-2021. Insurance was almost withdrawn.
    The attendance rate at the school is no way near as the attendance in public schools. The solution and it has been proven and worked in the past is to send the children away from the environment they currently live in.
    I.e: CLC hand over a station east of Alice and send all the children there to learn routine, simple chores, responsibility and life skills. These children need hands on learning. Yipirinya School was created for visiting families and town camps.
    Sorry to say Jacinta just because your mum works at Yipirinya it’s not suitable, however I wouldn’t want my hard earned tax paid money supporting accommodation at Yipirinya were there are already 25 rooms in two sets of demountable beds available.
    Use what you have given that your attendance rate is not over fifty percent.
    The really difficult children are not attending school at Yipirinya and what is wrong with Yirara College which is under-utilised.

  5. It is disappointing to read that this major $12m proposal was developed by the principal and submitted months before he called the first school council meeting in two years, last February.
    So it’s no surprise to read that councillor and principal Morris does not want the community involvement that Minister Scrymgour wants, and intends to control all decisions about this proposed facility.
    From the earliest days of settlement to today, Aboriginal facilities have often been controlled by ambitious individuals. That top-down structure disengages our community, so facilities become under-utilised.
    This town has several examples, so let’s learn from our past mistakes!
    Yipirinya has long had the worst average attendance (~30%) of any school, so it may not know how to improve attendance going forward.
    Aboriginal people will tell you that weak social and cultural connections underlie the onerous problem of unsupervised children and poor school attendance.
    This project could be an opportunity to inform and engage our community, rather than delegate final decisions to one person.
    Minister Scrymgour’s proposal for community involvement should also include independent oversight of the project, and expert facilitation to show how we can make fully-informed decisions together.

  6. We don’t need another boarding school in town for one school.
    Go back to the communities and upgrade the schools.
    We already have boarding schools. The older kids can go St Phillip’s and Yirara.
    Why spend more money on a school that separates from main stream school anyway.
    Why can’t the kids go to main stream and put the language / culture teachers in the main schools?
    Funding a school with hardly any kids attending anyway just doesn’t make sense.

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