Teaching in Galiwin’ku

Old Collegian, Andrew Lansdell (2006), has spent the last two years teaching in Arnhem Land, Elcho Island, in the community of Galiwin’ku. Shepherdson College, a school of only 500-600 students, is where Andrew taught a class of senior students from Years 9-13.

This was an eye opening, life changing experience for Andrew, who found school-life very different when living in a smaller community.

“Students most often didn’t wear shoes and would turn up at different times of the day,” said Andrew. “Student attendance was erratic and varied depending on what was happening in the community the night before, like a disco until 4am.”

Whilst teaching and living in Galiwin’ku, many Balanda (white people) are adopted by someone in the community. Andrew was adopted as a brother by one of his students within the first week of his experience. As a consequence, the assistant teacher who Andrew worked with became his grandfather.

“Through my adoption, I learnt about family, ceremony, country and culture,” said Andrew. “On weekends the family and I would go out hunting for maypal (oysters) and mangrove worms. It was a pretty amazing lifestyle.”

For Andrew, the gaps that existed in student understanding of the Australian curriculum were large. At the same time, students would speak three or four languages before English.

“They had incredible knowledge of the bush, the ability to hunt and a strong understanding and practice of custom and culture,” said Andrew. “There are attempts to acknowledge these abilities in the curriculum, but it falls short and doesn’t do it justice.”

For the students of Shepherdson College, a day in a class might include literacy, Yolngu Matha (the language spoken by the people of Arnhem land), mathematics, learning about country through trips to the beach to check crocodile traps or learning about different types and uses of plants, freestyle dancing, cooking and sport.

“Most rewarding was being accepted and welcomed into a community so generously,” said Andrew. “Whether it was learning from students in class, sitting and taking part in a ceremony or going out hunting, there was a richness and depth to every situation that demonstrated how much there is to learn on so many levels.”