“They make a beeline for the bookshelves first thing each morning,” says Tania de Bono, the years 4 to 6 class teacher at Yirrkala School in the NT. “Anything to do with science, nature, space – they love it. They call each over to discuss what they’re looking at. It’s really exciting.”
Yirrkala, 18 kilometres south-east of the large mining town of Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land, is one of the most well-known Aboriginal communities in Australia: its leading artists produce highly sought-after bark paintings; in 1963 the Yolgnu people produced a bark petition which they sent to Parliament House in Canberra; and it was home to 1980s rock band Yothu Yindi.
The school at Yirrkala has been receiving books from our Foundation since 2008. Many are used in the Families as First Teachers (FAFT) centre the school operates; some are borrowed by the children by way of class lending libraries; others are distributed in packs to families, as very few have books in the home; and lots are read in the classrooms.
“Each time I’ve brought in a new box of books from the Post Office and opened them in front of the children their eyes have lit up like torches!”
And they can’t wait to get their hands on them, with the boys often being the first ones to run over and choose a book.
“I’ve heard reports from grandparents,” says Tania. “Some of the kids go home and stand in front of a mirror and mimic their teacher reading to the class, copying their intonation … The parents love to see their children coming home with a new book in their hands and having the responsibility of reading and showing the rest of the family what they have learnt.”
In some ways the school at Yirrkala is unique. Its 180 students, aged 4 ½ to 19 years, come from 20 different homelands in the region. Most spend about half their time in Yirrkala and half on their traditional country.
“The parents definitely want to see their children progress. They have a deep sense of appreciation of learning even though many don’t read themselves. Seeing their kids sitting down reading a book really gives them hope.”
Fifteen clan languages under the overall name Yognu Matha are spoken by kids attending Yirrkala School, with Dhuwaya being the main one.
“Many kids start school speaking two or three languages,” says Tania. “But not English.”
The school has its own Literature Production Centre and is hoping to begin producing books in language to encourage cultural learning through the written word at all stages of the students’ development.
In the meantime, books from the ILF Book Supply Program are not only treasured at Yirrkala every day of the school year but also very well looked after.
“It’s brilliant,” says Tania, who says students, parents and teachers alike at Yirrkala are thankful to all who contribute to ILF’s Book Supply Program. “It’s a huge thing for communities to be getting these books. It’s massive!”
IMPORTANT: IMAGE IS FROM THE REMOTE COMMUNITY OF MANYALLALUK IN NT. NO IMAGES WERE AVAILABLE FROM YIRRKALA.