When the name Wadeye appears in the national media, it’s usually accompanied by excitable, if not spectacularly well-informed, commentary about “rioting youth”, “teenage gangs” and “the break-down of law and order”.
But on Monday the only thing on show in this remote Indigenous community, some 250 odd clicks south-west of Darwin as the crow flies, was academic achievement. The town is the sixth largest settlement in the NT, with a population approaching 3,000. Tropical blossom and patches of greenery make for a gentler physical environment than the uncompromising red dust of the central desert communities.
Community elder, Boniface Perdjert, offered some brief and dignified words of welcome to visitors who had travelled to the community for the big day. Then local teenage rock band “One Way” played a few tunes to acknowledge both the community’s timeless heritage, and the influence that the Catholic church has in the region.
Evil Warriors and Judas Priests were noticeably thin on the ground as some forty community members stepped forward to receive certificates of proficiency in English from the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Education. They were shy, but proud, and their families cheered wildly in support.
In a classy show of respect, Batchelor boss, Dr Tony Mordini, turned out at Wadeye in full academic regalia — worn over a suit — to make the presentations. It’s build-up time in the Top End now, and the weather is hideous. It was a hundred and plenty in the old language out there in the direct sun on Monday and the humidity was staggering. Good one, Tony.
The locals were dressed in a fashion more in tune with the temperature, with at least one recipient stepping forward to accept his award with his yellow academic stole draped over a sleeveless Collingwood footy jumper.
Batchelor Institute is well regarded in the Top End. It began life in the mid 60’s as an annexe of the Aboriginal boarding school, Kormilda College on the outskirts of Darwin. In 1999 the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education was established by Act of the NT Parliament, as an educational institution for the tertiary education of Indigenous Australians. Batchelor is perhaps best known for it’s iconic “Radio Rum Jungle” which has trained hundreds of Indigenous students in radio production and presentation.
Monday’s ceremony was a triumph for the Wadeye community, and for Batchelor Institute, who also used the occasion to launch Ku Kukpi — Black-headed Python. The bi-lingual book, by senior elder, Kampawerr Patricia Karui, is a product of the Endangered Languages Project which strives to preserve local Indigenous languages.
“These projects help to keep language strong in communities, and contribute to the inclusion of Indigenous languages in schools, and in particular the bilingual program at Wadeye,” Maree Klesch from Batchelor Press told Crikey.
Graduation Day at Wadeye was a practical demonstration of success in the sort of thing “we” have been demanding of “them” for a good while now. It would be a fine thing to see some formal acknowledgement from governments of the good citizens of Wadeye for their achievements, and of the Batchelor mob who make it possible.