Terry Mills was sworn in as the new Northern Territory Chief Minister last Wednesday and has hit the ground — or at least the airstrips — running.

Late last week he travelled to Nguiu — the small Bathurst Island township that won Country Liberal Party candidate Francis Xavier Maralampuwi his seat in the new NT Parliament — to Ramingining in central Arnhem land and the once troubled Aboriginal township of Wadeye in the NT’s north-west. Each of these was a glad-handing, back-patting triumphant tour-of-victory-and-here-are-the-spoils-of-war complete with winning candidate and media and minder packs in dusty tow.

On Saturday Mills flew to Gove on the far north-east of the NT then drove a few kilometres on a gravel road to a shady camp at Gulkula to the annual Garma Festival, run by the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

This was a very different trip to his fly-in, fly-out trips to Nguiu, Ramingining and Wadeye. No triumph, no candidates, no caravan of media or minders in tow. This was a trip well outside of Mills’ comfort zone — the CLP didn’t put a dent in the firm 32-year Labor hold on the local seat of Nhulunbuy at the recent election.

Galarrwuy Yunupingu has been practising politics — in the NT and beyond — for more than 50 years and plays it harder, faster and sharper than anyone else here — black or white. So when Mills, the ninth Chief Minister since NT self government in 1974, came to town he was put to the test as only the Yolngu — the self-descriptor for the Aboriginal people of north-east Arnhem land — can.

After meeting — and by all accounts getting a grilling from — Yolngu leaders, Mills told the gathering at the Garrtjambal Centre: “I enjoyed the test before I arrived here. I hope I passed. Judging by what I heard I think I’ve managed to make it to this point.”

Mills was apparently grilled in a long meeting with senior Yolngu before speaking at the Yujuwala Garma Key Forum, which this year ran with the theme “Australia’s Resource Boom: A stepping stone to an indigenous future”.

But Mills didn’t come to Garma to talk about jobs, rocks and holes in the ground. He opened with a generic “we were elected to govern for all — black or white” speech that we’ll be hearing a lot more of over the next few months. He then turned to what he saw as two key polices for Aboriginal Territorians.

Unsurprisingly, Mills, principal at a private Christian school before entering politics, hit on education first.

“I always believed that the ultimate responsibility for a child is the family — is the parent, so when it comes to the education of that child it still remains the primary responsibility of the child [I’m sure he meant ‘family’ here].

“The last thing we need is for the education department to be served rather than to serve the interests of that family … I believe that decision-making must be made closer to the place where that decision has effect — and when it comes to schools I will provide real resourcing for families who are involved in schools who want to have a greater say over what goes on in their schools to apply for registration and be actively supported in having a say over what is taught, and who teaches and be worked with and alongside of and be assisted in that project … I believe essentially that the power is in the hands of people to make change — not systems and bureaucracies so much.”

There will be more than a few bureaucrats in the NT Education department who will be nervously looking for a parachute after those comments. The local weekly Sunday Territorian yesterday predicted departmental head Gary Barnes was for the chop.