It’s Reconciliation Week when our small team of four fly to Broome, load eight boxes of books and gear held by Magabala Books into the troopie and venture out along the Great Northern Highway to Fitzroy Crossing. We’re hoping to make Fitzroy Crossing Inn before sunset, before our tracks run into stray buffalo, kangaroo or other wildlife and we just about do it. Give or take a star or two. For Debra Dank, this is the second field trip of the year and she tells us she is more comfortable behind the wheel than as a passenger. We feel privileged to be here and a whole new universe unfolds as she tells us stories of her community and growing up in Borroloola, and points out bush medicine and wildlife.
This Kimberley field trip offers us the opportunity to revisit some special places where we feel we are slowly making connections: Yakanarra Community School and St Joseph’s school at Wyndham. It also gives us an opportunity to connect with schools at Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek and Wyndham all of who have been ordering books from our Foundation and who are keen to meet up with our ambassadors, especially the infamous Andy Griffiths (click here to read Andy's musings on the trip).
Over the four days we travel by car and light aircraft, to five remote schools. In that period we work with a range of children from 5-15 years old. All warm to Andy’s engrossing tales drawn from his bestselling series and latest release, The 13 Storey Treehouse.
At Yakanarra, the Principal Helen Unwin tells us that they have had some excellent reading results in the latest literacy tests with some children jumping two reading age levels. Maddy, one of the primary teachers, proudly says that the school has won an award at the St Kilda Short Film Festival. We watch it with the kids who made it, some of whom are too shy to look at themselves on screen.
At Fitzroy Valley High School we conduct writing workshops with two groups. Andy Griffiths says it’s one of the best libraries he has seen. The librarian, Colleen Garner, has been in the position for over six years and also looks after libraries at two other remote schools including Wangjatjungka and Bayulu. Colleen told us apart from standard Australian English, the main language spoken at the school is Kimberley Kriole and up to six different languages are spoken altogether at the school (ten languages are spoken in the Valley).
At Halls Creek District High School, we are met by Joneen Edwards, the Literacy Co-ordinator, who specialises in literacy education and is in Halls Creek for two years. Joneen has worked in literacy development all over WA and says it was not until she came to Halls Creek that she quite appreciated how complex teaching literacy to these children are – four main languages are spoken by the kids in Halls Creek including Aboriginal English and Kriole. After our visit, the kids read their writing at assembly and talk about being an author. “It’s important to have good books that kids can relate to,” she says.
We arrive in time for assembly in Wyndham where school starts at 7.45am and meet the new Principal, Andrea Millar. Andy presents certificates to the children whose stories featured in The Naked Boy and the Crocodile. We spend two hours in the classroom and are rewarded by a whole new collection of stories like The Day My Teacher got Struck by Lightning and the second instalment of The Naked Boy and the Crocodile. Some kids are confident enough to read their work out loud.
Our last stop is at the friendliest school in the West, Wyndham District High School, where we run two workshops.
Thursday night we are bushed. We barbeque barramundi, steak and chicken and munch through a mountain of salad. Tomorrow Andy Griffiths will talk to ABC Brisbane and we will get ready for the onslaught of outstanding emails and our city lives and routines. But first we must venture out to the Ord river to see whether that old croc is really there or not…
Karen Williams, ILF Executive Director
"A week on the road through the Kimberley with Ambassador and author Andy Griffiths, Executive Director Karen Williams and Program Manager Deb Dank is one I will never forget. You hear about the isolation of some of these places, you hear about how excited the kids get when an author speaks to them, you hear about the complexities of organising these visits, but it was not until I participated in a field trip that I fully appreciated the amazing work that the ILF does. Karen and Deb are so passionate and hardworking, and I have a renewed respect for Andy, observing first hand how beautifully he relates to children who may have never given a thought to what reading and writing could unlock within them. Because of the ILF, magic happens. (But I won't be eating cabbage again for a very long time.)"
Cate Paterson, Publishing Director, Pan Macmillan