Fred Chaney

director of Reconciliation Australia, a deputy
president of the National Native Title Tribunal and former Liberal Minister for
Aboriginal Affairs between 1978 and 1980 – writes:


Chris Sarra’s views on Aboriginal education
and teaching culture in schools (yesterday, item 8) should be of interest to the Menzies Institute,
the Centre for Independent Studies, the Institute for Public Affairs and all
the other right of centre think tanks because
he is one of the bright points of light in his field. He has actually shown how well Aboriginal
kids can learn.

There are a number of
other exemplars such as the husband and wife team, George and Dr Robyn
Hewitson, who took a series of kids through to open matriculation at Kalkaringi
(Wave Hill), the home of the late Vincent Lingiari, a station school in an area
of deep cultural attachments. Like Chris
they used culture and cooperated with it to make the educational experience
work, and had station community kids going off to tertiary studies. In this field, what works should be the prism
through which policy should be developed.

A strong focus in the Menzies paper seems
to be an argument for deserting the homelands and bringing the desert people
into the larger towns. Given the current
concerns about the influx of desert dwellers into Alice Springs and Halls Creek, and the history of very
difficult issues in other towns such as Kalgoorlie
and Port Augusta, the notion that closing down the Aboriginal desert communities is even a medium term solution is just
impractical.

I happen to agree with Dr Johns’s view that
Aboriginal children need an education which will provide them with a future in
the real economy. That is why I work with
the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation in eight regional communities, which has had
some real successes in helping students finish Year 12 in their local high
schools. (Our program is referred to
positively by Dr Johns.) But to use that
view as a basis for assimilation as against integration, to use it as a
reason for severing connection to
country, is typical of what Chris Sarra refers to as part of demonising
Aboriginal people and their culture, an approach which he says is anchored in
racist beliefs.

The best schools across all regions of Australia
show what can be done. Try Thursday
Island, Karatha, Cherbourg
and Kalkaringi for starters and ask why the rest are not doing as well. What we
need is an emphatic break from the culture that anything is good enough for
Aboriginals.

Peter Fray

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