Bawaka Cultural Experience

For students at boarding school, the other 18 hours spent outside of the classroom, are critical to ensuring their success in learning and life.

Dawurr boarding at Nhulunbuy High School is home to about 27 Aboriginal students from communities across East Arnhem Land. It is the first boarding school in the Northern Territory that provides boarding for students close to home so they can remain on their country, close to family rather than travelling to Darwin or interstate to receive an education.

As part of Dawurr’s cultural program, 12 female students between the ages of 13 and 17 went on a women’s trip to Bawaka, a significant Yolngu place, where they spent three days and two nights, getting back to country.

Bawaka Traditional Owner Rrawun Maymuru led the experience which focused on the student’s personal learning journey and included lessons about kinship, respect and cultural connection.

Rrawun grew-up at Bawaka and received his education via school of the air. He now operates the family business - Lirrwi Tourism, a successful Aboriginal cultural tourism enterprise.

“We are learning every day; what we see, what we touch, what we hear – it’s all learning,’’ he said.

“Learning about narure itself, and how nature works is part of our education – it’s similar to how the system works in the modern world. 

“You get up in the morning and you have your pen and paper there ready and you have to think about what assessments you’re going to do – it’s similar to what the land holds.’’

Hunting was central to the student’s learning as they weaved through mangroves collecting mud mussels, worked the tides to catch fish for dinner and clambered on rocks to dig maepole (oysters) out of their shells.

“We have been camping and hunting and fishing. We also did Bungal, dancing next to the fire. We put on our skirts and did the dances for the plane, the emu and fish,’’ student Noelle Yunupingu said.

Rowan shared with the students his story about setting up his tourism business and the learning and hard work it took to get him where he is today.

“Every time you’re in class listen, with the pen and paper that’s the job to learn. If you do that every day Monday to Friday, one day you’ll be somebody,’’ he said.

“Dream big because you might have your own business or you could be in parliament house talking for us. You are going to grow-up and be leaders, role models for your homelands or your community school or Australia.’’

Each of the students have their own dreams for the future and for Debbie Guyula that dream is to become a female ranger, living in her community of Donydji and working to look after her country. 

While student Grace Durrurrnga loves to play basketball and wants to wants to pursue a career as a sport and recreation officer working for the shire in Ramingining.

Year 12 student Jubilee Weo said the experience at Bawaka had taught her about Yolngu country, family kinship and cultural connection.

“This experience has taught me that it is up to us as individuals to follow our dreams and that we all have a journey to follow,’’ she said.

“Learning from the elders, both from the past and future is important. We are the next generation, and we can improve or change things; it’s up to us.’’

Learning on country