“While there is a strong oral storytelling culture on the Tiwi islands, there is very little print – even in Indigenous language – so having books is a plus,” Suzanne Brogan, former Teaching Principal of Milikapiti School tells the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
The community of Milikapiti, one of three major communities that make up the Tiwi Islands, is located on the Melville Island, about 120 km north of Brisbane.
Home to a population of 400, among them a host of artists, health workers, teachers and AFL players (with Michael Long and the Rioli boys in the mix), the storytelling culture is strong. But unlike in urban cities, print and signage is barely anywhere to be seen.
On a recent visit to Darwin with her two children, Suzanne tells the Indigenous Literacy Foundation that she saw them actively engaging with the print words: on signs, bus stops and shop fronts.
“We were going to the library, and there were words everywhere,” she says. “The minibus driver was cracking up, because the kids were pointing at the words, reading them.”
“In Urban society, there are words everywhere. You learn the words of the stations and the streets [by growing up around them]."
For the children at Milikapiti school, it is not on the street, but by engaging with books that language is learnt.
"While there is a strong oral storytelling culture on the Tiwi islands, there is very little print – even in Indigenous language – so having books is a plus.”
When Suzanne first arrived at Milikapiti School, she was “distressed to see kids would get books, and they would be left lying around the community – not treasured.”
That was before the ILF brought the Book Buzz program to the Preschool and Early Years students in 2014. The Book Buzz provides preschools and schools with culturally and developmentally appropriate books for toddlers. Two years ago it partnered with Milikapiti School and took off in full swing.
“Children have special places for their book collections… they are prized possessions now, and have places in their rooms. There’s a real love of books.” Suzanne says.
Asked about how that change occurred, Suzanne told ILF that while a previous program had books dropped off in bulk, the ILF program is more community-based.
“Plus teachers themselves are valuing book," she says. "Books aren’t just given out. We read the books together. And books from the ILF are given out as prizes at the end of the term.”
Milikapiti benefits from the Book Supply program, and the Community Literacy Projects, where ILF ambassadors run workshops to develop the students writing and illustrative skills. Seeing the face of authors and illustators motivates the children to read.
“They’re seeing the face of Alison Lester [one of the ILF ambassadors] and they can see they can be authors as well.”
When Suzanne began teaching 38 years ago, there weren’t a lot of picture books. She remembers making books with colleagues in Indigenous language, and is excited by the books available to children today.
“I get so excited [about the picture books] and that enthusiasm, that joy passes on to the kids.”