Adult education in a Remote Australian Community.


Tarungka Irene Jimbidie


I've been working at Karrayili for 10 years and within that 10 years I have worked with four Principals. Every time the position came up many people asked me to go for it but I kept refusing as I felt I wasn't ready. Finally, in October 1996, our last Principal left under unusual circumstances and that's when the Karrayili Council decided that I should take it on. I could see in these great elders and Councils of Karrayili that they had great faith in me and knew that I would be able to do the job. I also had great support from various other people, too many to name both local and far, but I must admit I had a few critics as well. It has been a very challenging position for me and one year down the track I am still trying my best. I am not ashamed to say that just because I am a Principal doesn't mean I know everything. If I have a problem or am unsure about anything I will ask for help elsewhere. My main aim is to ensure that Karrayili is running well.

Being the Aboriginal Principal of Karrayili is great and I think that's what the people have always wanted. I can understand very much my mother tongue which is Walmajarri and the most used language in the Fitzroy Region. I must admit that English isn't my first language and I only use it when I have to. Being a local person, Aboriginal people approach me easily to talk about training because we are not actually communicating in English but rather in the language that we feel comfortable in. This way messages are expressed better. I also have a better understanding of the Fitzroy Valley Region and try not to have a negative attitude towards the people when it comes to training. I say this because I know of people who have worked in the region for many years and suddenly they have this negative feeling about training for Aboriginal people, you know, saying things like why bother about running training courses when they don't stick to it. That's not the point really; the point is to actually find out why they don't stick to it. People like that make me sick and I try not to work with them.

I can see the principal's role as continually trying to obtain funding to service the training needs of our Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy Valley Region. Many changes in the areas of funding and training have happened to Karrayili Adult Education Centre since its establishment. Years ago Karrayili would send submissions to its funding body which was at that time supposed to deliver programs upon community request. It was easy to obtain funding and just deliver the training to the people. Take Driver Training, for example. In 1987 there was an enormous request from the community for Karrayili to help them get their Driver's License. So Karrayili asked its funding body to provide funds to employ someone to help people get their license. Our submission was successful and we received the funds to do this job. Another example is the Literacy class, which was the main reason that Karrayili was set up in the beginning. Middle aged adults who had never experienced formal education wanted to learn to read and write English to enable themselves to better understand and fit into the society they lived and still live in today. Funding was always available to employ several teachers to teach basic literacy and numeracy.

In the early 1990s funding arrangements and guidelines began to change. The Western Australia Department Of Training took over our funds through the Aboriginal Services Branch and Karrayili Adult Education Centre was funded, and still is, through the Indigenous Education and Strategic Initiative Program (IESIP) Funds. This meant that in order to obtain funding we now had to deliver accredited courses and, as none of the programs we were delivering at that time was accredited, Karrayili had to look for accredited courses that were similar to the ones we were running and register to run these courses. This was a very slow process as we found that the courses that were delivered elsewhere were not necessarily suited for our client group.

The main problem facing Karrayili now is funding. When I say funding, I mean funding that will enable us to deliver the courses that are most appropriate and relevant to our clients. The Karrayili Adult Education Centre is trying to service the training needs of over forty Aboriginal Communities in the Fitzroy Valley Region within the radius of 120kms. Some of these communities are in the remotest areas of the valley. These people are very happy living on their community and they do not want to come to town and do the training here as they know there are a lot of distractions such as alcohol and fighting. They would rather stay in their community and do the training there in a real life situation. I think this is very important as learning is best achieved through this method of delivery. People will learn the skills that will benefit themself and their community.

We were grateful this year to actually obtain funding from the W.A Department Of Training through the Priority Skills Enhancement Program Tender to deliver three courses. This tender was actually a Pilot Project to direct funds towards assisting remote communities with training to manage their own community. Anyway this tender gave us the opportunity to actually deliver Community Base Training on some of the Aboriginal Communities in the valley. At the end of this year we will be submitting a report to the W.A. Department of Training on the basis of this tender. It will be great if the Priority Skills Enhancement Program tender will actually continue directing funds in assisting Remote Aboriginal Communities, not only in Fitzroy Crossing but all over the state to access the type of training that Aboriginal people need for their community and how they want this training to be delivered to them.

I feel that people living in Remote Aboriginal communities are being left out when it comes to training due to the fact that funding for training is being directed towards Industries. I think that an Aboriginal Community can be seen as an industry considering the various areas within the community such as the Store, Office, Powerhouse, Clinic, School and so on. Aboriginal people who are living on communities that already have this infrastructure in place are demanding Community Base Training in these areas so that they can learn the necessary skills that will enable them to work in these areas. At the moment non-Aboriginal people are in the higher positions within these areas and very often these people are not in the position to take on trainees due to the fact that they are either too busy doing community business or they don't have the skills to train.

Another problem is actually delivering the courses that are suitable to our clients. As I mentioned before most, if not all, courses that are available may be suitable elsewhere but not necessarily suited to the client group we deal with. I am glad to say that Marra Worra Worra Aboriginal Resource Centre in Fitzroy Crossing in conjunction with Karrayili have obtained funding early this year to employ a Curriculum Development Officer to develop a multiskilling program that is most appropriate and relevant for the Aboriginal Communities in the Fitzroy Valley Region. This course will consist of Generic Core Modules and five Electives in the areas of Community Store; Community Office; Mechanical Skills; Community Garden and Landscaping; and Community Housing Maintenance & Construction. The development of this course will be completed in December 1997 and the next step will actually be to fully resource this course, trial it and if successful have it accredited. This will take time but in the end, if successful, it will be all worth it.

I think the big challenges facing Karrayili now is the fact that we are in competition with other training providers in the state when it comes to funding. Whether its the Private Training Provider, Government Sector or Independent Training Provider like ourself we have to apply for funds from the same bucket of money like everyone else. I think the advantage of being a community organisation and Independent training provider is that we keep in touch with the real world, that is we keep in touch with the local training needs of the people which is often very much overlooked by funding bodies when it comes to training and curriculum development. Our organisation works closely with Marra Worra Worra Aboriginal Resource Centre which is the managing organisation for over forty remote Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy valley region.

One of the big problems I have had and continue to have is a lack of confidence by people, mainly non-Aboriginal people towards me as an administrator. Other Aboriginal staff have similar problems especially our finance manager who is Aboriginal. Sometimes non-Aboriginal people aren't sure how to approach me. I have actually had non-Aboriginal people come into the organisation and automatically approach one of the non-Aboriginal staff if they needed anything. I have even had people from the government sector tell me things that need to be done then tell the same things to a non-Aboriginal staff without me knowing to make sure that it will be done.

Given these problems some people have a long way to go in excepting indigenous leadership. Reconciliation, after all, means that all sides have to accept new and diverse management structures and having a deep respect for this diversity.

Tarungka Irene Jimbidie is the principal of the Karrayili Adult Education Centre in Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia.

This article is based on a section of a forthcoming book by Sue McGinty, Tarungka Irene Jimbidie and Pangkaylala Gail Smiler which was funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.


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