Arnhem Land’s Wuyagiba Study Hub celebrates first cohort of bridging course graduates
Student Mary-Beth Rogers is thinking about studying to become a vet. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)
In a seaside pop-up classroom, nearly 1,000 kilometres from Darwin, a group of young people from Ngukurr were recently faced with their first ever university-style assignment — a 500-word essay on who they are.
- Wuyagiba Study Hub was launched last month in Ngukurr
- It provides a four-week course to help students learn skills before applying to university
- No one from Ngukurr has graduated university since the 1980s
“Essay” itself was a daunting word for some in the group, many of who did not finish high school.
Earnest Junior Daniels, a 20-year-old mentor, also pointed out that academic English was far different to the Kriol — an English-based language — spoken in this south-east corner of Arnhem Land.
“It’s kind of hard for us to write in English,” he said.
“The little words like ‘the’ and ‘a’ in Kriol, as we speak, we don’t use [them] most of the time, whereas in English you use them a lot, to make things more specific.”
But the students are used to challenges, and the essay’s theme — personal identity — was carefully chosen for the class at the newly created Wuyagiba Study Hub.
It captured the twin aims of the bridging course project: to ground students in cultural knowledge while developing their western academic skills.
The hope is to get some of Ngukurr’s young people into and through university for the first time in decades.
Students at work in the open-air classroom at Wuyagiba outstation. (Supplied: Wuyagiba Study Hub)
Academic skills meet Indigenous culture
The course’s lecture on identity was delivered by Kevin Guyurryurru Rogers, who was among a handful of now elders from Ngukurr who studied teaching in the 1980s — since then no one else from the community has graduated from university.
Mr Rogers was one of the driving forces behind the study hub project, which was launched last month as a trial on his family’s remote Wuyagiba outstation near the Gulf of Carpentaria.
“[Before], there was nothing after finishing Year 12 to help them adapt and get their academic skills [at a] level to go through to university,” he said.
“[At Wuyagiba] they not only upgrade their academic skills but learn about cultural ways.”
Over the four-week course, students brushed up on English grammar and written Kriol as well as learning computer skills, essay writing and citation, while also revising cultural lore and practices with elders.
The project was funded through crowd-sourced and philanthropic donations scraped together by Emilie Ens, an environmental scientist-turned-community organiser, who has been working in Ngukurr for the past decade.
She called on the help of Macquarie University in Sydney, where the graduating students will travel next week to find out more about study options.
Environmental scientist Emilie Ens (right) has been working in Ngukurr for the past decade and helped drive the bush university project. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)
‘We want to control our country’
The students’ goals range from environmental science and engineering to policing and admin work.
The oldest student, Regina Rogers, said that most of all, she wanted to see her people better-equipped to run services and businesses in Ngukurr, where, like in many remote Aboriginal communities, the higher-paid professional jobs are largely filled by non-Aboriginal outsiders.
“We want to control our country, you know, and our workplace position,” she said.
“We don’t want white people to come and take control, because we can do it, we can achieve — Indigenous people running our own community.”
Family and friends in Ngukurr celebrate the bush university’s first graduates. (ABC News: Jacqueline Breen)
The hard part for the students is ahead of them and the study hub’s future is also uncertain.
It has no ongoing funding and the program has not been evaluated.
But Kevin Rogers said he believed in the drive and abilities of this first group of graduates.
“I feel very proud that we have found a way to help our young people,” he said.
“I’m very pleased for them, and I’ll support them in any way I can.”
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