NT Bilingual Education Timeline



Government Support for NT Bilingual

Education after 1950: A Longer Timeline

[Last revised April 25th, 2022]

Professor Brian Devlin

University Professorial Fellow
Charles Darwin University

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      I.         This file is called "a longer timeline" because it supplements a shorter one in the 2017 book, History of Bilingual Education in the Northern Territory, edited by Devlin, Disbray and Devlin, and published by Springer.

     II.         Many of the entries, especially those from 1964 to 1999, were drawn from Harris and Devlin (1999). 

   III.         A timeline later created by journalists for an ABC website was based on that same source. 

    IV.         A Milingimbi timeline prepared by Sue Reaburn and others freely drew on that material as well.

     V.         However, this current version is now more accurate than any of those mentioned above.

    VI.         This longer timeline will be periodically updated as more information comes to hand. It should therefore be regarded as a work in progress. 

  VII.         All contributions and comments are welcome. Please send them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


On 28th February 1950 Robert Menzies and other key officials acknowledged that bilingual education would be 'desirable' for remote Aboriginal students in some circumstances (Devlin, Disbray & Devlin, 2017, p.1). It was in this year that the first government schools for Aboriginal students in the Northern Territory were opened at four sites—Delissaville, Bagot, Alice Springs and Yuendumu—with a combined enrolment of 153. These schools were under the control of the Commonwealth Office of Education (Harris, 1990, p.45), which assumed responsibility for Aboriginal education in the Territory until 1955. 

The Commonwealth Office of Education had become involved in Aboriginal education following a conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Welfare authorities in Canberra in February 1947. Recommendations made at that meeting were summarised in a memorandum dated January 5th, 1950 from R. C. Mills, Director, Commonwealth Office of Education, to The Secretary, Prime Minister's Department (Box 234, file7/6/1/111630). At that meeting it had been resolved that governments should make 'increased provision for the education of natives'. 

It was noted that 'the South Australian Education Department, which at present controls schools for white children in the Northern Territory, could not see its way clear to provide teachers for native schools". As a result the Minister for the Interior had recommended that "the Commonwealth Government should accept direct responsibility for the provision of education in the Northern Territory'.

In the 1950 agreement these recommendations were approved, on behalf of all the responsible authorities, by A.R. Driver, Administrator; R. C. Mills, Director, Commonwealth Office of Education; P. A. McBride, Minister responsible for the NT Administration Act; and Robert Menzies, Minister responsible for the Commonwealth Education Act. 

What is of particular interest in this agreement is the Commonwealth Government's acknowledgement that 'the language of instruction in Native schools shall be English, except where local conditions (e.g., where natives are still in a tribal or semi-tribal state) render bilingual instruction desirable'. [My emphasis.] Further, it was resolved that in the 'special curriculum" that would be needed, the subjects "should include English Language, Native Language (where appropriate)'. This is the first recorded commitment by the Commonwealth Government to support bilingual instruction for Aboriginal children in certain circumstances.

More generally the agreement between the Administrator of the Northern Territory and the Director of the Commonwealth Office of Education (1950) specified that 'the Director of the Commonwealth Office of Education will accept responsibility for the administration of education of children of Aboriginals in in the Northern Territory in respect of staffing; inspection; curricula; school classification; recommendations for the establishment of new schools; the training, appointment and control of teachers; the classification of teachers; the inspection and supervision of mission schools; recommendations concerning mission school standards'. In Annexure B of his memorandum, R C Mills proposed the establishment of a further three schools in 1951 at Beswick Station, Haast's Bluff and Snake Bay.


In November 1951 a meeting of specialists was convened in Paris to discuss the use of vernacular languages in education. Their recommendations were published two years later.
Beulah Lowe was appointed as the first trained school teacher at Milingimbi.


Harry Giese was appointed Director of the Welfare Branch, which in 1955 had responsibility for Aboriginal education, health and infrastructure.

With the encouragement of Reverend Cecil Gribble (1903–1995) several carefully selected mission staff were appointed to work in the field after being given some training in linguistics and anthropology at the University of Sydney (Carment et al., 2008, p. 241).  

Heather Hinch began work at Goulburn Island.


UNESCO's landmark publication, The use of vernacular languages in education, emphasised the importance of educating children in their own languages.

Cecil Gribble, after observing Beulah Lowe teach an oral English class in 1953, gave her this advice: 'It's good as far as it goes, but ideally education should start with a child's own tongue' (McKenzie, 1976, p. 181).

Changes in the law affecting 'part-Aboriginals' in the Northern Territory in 1953 signalled the introduction of assimilation, both as a policy aim and as an administrative method.

A fund was set up in the NT to collect royalties paid by companies which were operating mining ventures on Aboriginal reserves.


Operational control of Aboriginal education in the NT passed from the Commonwealth to the Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory Administration, which although part of the Commonwealth Department of the Interior, was seen to be a local organisation by Territorians because it was based in Darwin (Harris, 1990, p. 46). Aboriginal education has been the responsibility of successive NT administrations in the 60 years since. Harris (1990, p. 46) noted, 'A significant feature of the 1955 Administration was that it had responsibility for providing the full range of services to Aboriginal communities—education, health, housing, welfare, etc. Thus, education was not treated as a service in isolation, but as part of an integrated welfare approach'. 


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) approved a convention against discrimination in education. Article 5 of that convention enjoined government parties to recognise 'the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities" and "the use or the teaching of their own language'. 

The Methodist Church provided Beulah Lowe with clear support through its office in Darwin, in 1958, once Gordon Symons had been appointed Chairman of the Northern District. Lowe was then relieved of teaching duties and allowed to research Gupapuyngu for 12 months (Wearing, 2007, p. 226)


 Beulah Lowe completed her orthography of Gupapuyŋu (Carment et al., 2008, p. 363).


Tom Harris noted that in 1963 there were approximately 1500 Aboriginal students enrolled in church or mission school system compared to around 1000 in Government schools (Harris, 1990, p.45). 

The Yirrkala Bark Petition was submitted to the Commonwealth House of Representatives by people who were 'asserting their Aboriginal rights to their Yolŋu land, their Yolŋu languages, culture and way of life' (Stockley, Ganambarr, Munuŋgurr, Dh., Munuŋgurr, M., Wearne, Wunuŋmurra,  White, & Yunupiŋu, 2017, p. 140).

Beth Graham began teaching Aboriginal children at Yirrkala.

2. A glimmer of possibility (1964–1975)


 The Report of an investigation into the Curriculum and Teaching Methods used in Aboriginal Schools in the Northern Territory (Watts and Gallagher Report), was released. The Watts-Gallacher Report (1964, p.71) recommended bilingual education as the ideal approach for the Northern Territory, even though the authors considered that such programs would not be viable, because non-Aboriginal teachers could not be expected to learn all the Aboriginal languages; there were too many languages anyway, and preparing textbooks in many languages was thought to be unreasonably difficult. Nonetheless, this report was adopted as the NT's guide in developing these programs when bilingual education was later introduced (Letter from Hedley Beare, Director of NT Education to the Director of ACER, June 13, 1973. File 89/2392).

Capell noted that 'government policy looks forward to the loss of Aboriginal languages'.

Elkin (1964, p. 152) explained that 'Assimilation is not just a matter of housing, occupation, education and the law.... If teachers, preachers and administrators realise the gulf in thought, values and goals between what they teach and what the Aborigines inherit, they will, or should realise that their task is bridge-building, and not challenging children and adults alike to leap across an apparently fathomless chasm to a bank as yet dimly seen'.

In February 1964 Harry Giese introduced a bill to lift restrictions on Aboriginal people's access to alcohol.


 The CMS ran bilingual church services and considered going against the NT Government's Welfare policy of teaching only in English (Rademaker, 2012).


A referendum expanded Commonwealth authority in relation to Aboriginal affairs. Policy advice was provided to government through the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, comprising H. C. Coombs, Barrie Dexter and W. E. H. Stanner. This period marked the decline of assimilationist programs and a 'greater stress on indigenous people's own cultural roots, and on their right to determine their own places within a multicultural Australian society' (Carment, Edward, James, Maynard, Powell & Wilson, p.213)

Judith Stokes (1924-2003) was released from teaching duties so that she could do full-time linguistic and bible translation work. After attending a workshop led by Sarah Gudschinsky in early 1973, she worked with Gula Lalara to produce a series of 32 graded primers to teach adults to read in Anindiyakwa. Later she published a paper on Anindilyakwa concepts of space and time, highlighting differences between Aboriginal and Western thinking (Stokes 1982; Koch & Waddy, 1983; Black, 2014).


Dr Joy Kinslow Harris, a linguist, published a paper in Australian Territorie arguing that bilingual education was definitely possible, provided that Aboriginal people were allowed to do the teaching in their own languages through a system of team-teaching in partnership with qualified non-Aboriginal teachers. Her proposal was picked up in 1971 at a National Workshop, which recommended that '...pilot projects be established'. The article became the catalyst for the establishment of bilingual programs in the NT (Sommer, 1991). Black and Devlin (in press) note that Joy Kinslow-Harris had become active in the Top End in the late 1960s. 'In an appendix that has a lot to say about the history of linguistics in the Top End, Sandefur (1986: 195-208) notes how important a 1968 paper by Kinslow-Harris was to the development of bilingual education. Meanwhile, she was also undertaking research on Gunwingguan languages as a basis for her PhD thesis at Australian National University'.

The Australian Aborigines Branch of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL/AAB) moved to Darwin.


The Canadian federal government began a Bilingualism in Education Program in 1970. 


In the first land rights hearing in the NT Justice Richard Blackburn ruled against the claimants to the 'Gove land rights case' (Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, 1971), 17 FLR 141), thereby rejecting their claims to Aboriginal title. This prompted the dispersal of many people to outstations.


The Australian Government launched a plan to give 'Aboriginal children living in distinctive Aboriginal communities their primary education in Aboriginal languages' (Whitlam, 1972).

After 23 years of conservative rule the Australian Labor Party won the federal election held on December 2, 1972. Gough Whitlam's government immediately launched an ambitious reform program that included the introduction of bilingual education in the Northern Territory, the end of conscription, the withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam, independence for Papua New Guinea, recognition of the People's Republic of China, the abolition of imperial honours, the creation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (incorporating the old Welfare Branch), the establishment of an interim Schools Commission, recognition of Aboriginal land rights, equal pay for women, environmental protection, and the ratification of various international conventions, including one against racism.

The decision to introduce bilingual education in the Northern Territory was announced in December 1972 a few hours after Gough Whitlam's government had been elected. The Prime Minister announced that the Commonwealth Government would 'launch a campaign to have Aboriginal children living in distinctive Aboriginal communities given their primary education in Aboriginal languages' (Press statement #16). At the time the Federal Minister of Education was Kim Beazley, Snr.

In a letter to The Australian in December 1998, Mr Beazley explained that bilingual programs were favoured because they were considered to be the best route to mastery of English as a second language. To guide the establishment of bilingual programs he, as Minister of Education, set up the Watts Committee, a three-person advisory group comprising Dr Betty Watts (Reader in Education at the University of Queensland), W. J. (Bill) McGrath (Inspector of Schools in the Northern Territory's Aboriginal Education Branch) and J. L. Tandy (from the Department of Education in Canberra).

In 1972 Dr Hedley Beare (1932–2010) was appointed foundation Director of Education in the Northern Territory.


The Australian Government set up the first five pilot bilingual education programs in the Northern Territory, at Angurugu, Areyonga, Hermannsburg, Milingimbi and Warruwi, acting on advice from the Watts Committee and with considerable assistance from Missionary linguists. The first languages chosen for use in these programs were Anindilyakwa, Arrarnta, Gupapuyŋu, Maung and Pitjantjatjara. Head office assistance was provided from Darwin.

On January 22, 1973 the Watts Committee convened for the first time. Known as The Advisory Group on Teaching in Aboriginal languages in Schools in Aboriginal Communities in the Northern Territory, their report, Bilingual education in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory: Report and recommendations of advisory groups (the Watts, McGrath and Tandy report) set out to provide basic guidelines which might assist with the development of bilingual programs in the Northern Territory (Progress Report, 1973, p.1). The report was tabled in the House of Representatives on March 15, 1973 by the Minister for Education, Kim Beazley (reference no. 10 27/3/1973).

The authors envisaged that schools with bilingual programs would be 'agents of cultural continuity' (Watts, McGrath and Tandy, 1973, pp. 1, 7), fostering pride in ethnic identity and facilitating English reading and writing through initial vernacular literacy.The need for subsequent literacy in English was strongly emphasised (Watts, McGrath and Tandy, 1973, p. 1, §1.4). Continued study of Aboriginal languages was also advocated (Watts, McGrath and Tandy, 1973, pp. 1 & 11). For example, on p.11 they state that 'the Aboriginal language would remain as the appropriate language for arts ... and for Aboriginal Studies. Programs were intended to be bicultural as well as bilingual. Schools were regarded as integral to the communities they served.

The Watts Committee stipulated that creating a rich reading environment in the school was essential if a bilingual program was to succeed. What it recommended, in order of priority, were (1) traditional stories, as told by parents to young children; (2) stories of high interest to young children; (3) graded reading books and (4) stories of high interest to various age groups.

However, a key recommendation in their report was never picked up by authorities and endorsed; namely, § that 'Children's mastery of literacy skills in the Aboriginal language must also be assessed'.

In line with the advisory group's recommendations, experimental bilingual programs commenced in five schools: at Angurugu in Anindilyakwa and English, at Areyonga in Pitjantjatjara and English, at Hermannsburg in Arrernte and English, at Milingimbi in Gupapuyŋu and English and at Goulburn Island in Maung and English. In each of these schools the introduction of bilingual programs was initially limited to pre-school and first-year Infants classes for children aged 3 to 5. In four of the pilot schools senior pupils were also given literacy instruction in an Aboriginal language. At Milingimbi School the bilingual program was introduced into three classes (Pre-school 1 and 2) and Year 1 in 1973. Literature production began at that school in September 1973 (Milingimbi School report, 1979).

These pilot bilingual programs were judged to be 'one of the most exciting educational events in the modern world' (Hale, 1999, p. 43).  Two types of programs were officially recognised: Model I, which incorporated reading and writing in Aboriginal languages, and Model II, which did not (Watts, McGrath, & Tandy, 1973, pp. 14, 16). More program types (e.g., 50:50) were added in subsequent years.

A working definition of bilingual education was adopted by the Northern Territory Education Division in line with the Bilingual Education Act (Title VII ESEA), and advice from the Watts Committee (Watts, McGrath and Tandy, 1973, p. 1): 

Bilingual education is the use of two languages, one of which is English, as mediums of instruction for the same pupil population in a well-organised program which encompasses part or all of the curriculum and includes a study of the history and culture associated with the mother tongue. A complete program develops and maintains the children's self-esteem and the legitimate pride in both cultures.

The general aims of the bilingual programs, as set out in 1973, were:

(a) To present subject matter of the school program in the language most suitable for the instructional purpose, bearing in mind the language proficiency of the children and the special needs of specific areas of study.

(b) To develop competency in reading and writing in the Aboriginal language.

(c) To develop competency in reading and writing in English.

(d) To develop sufficient skill in the use of oral English before attempting to teach specific subject areas in that language.

(e) To foster greater proficiency in school work, and better understanding of it, by use of the Aboriginal language where appropriate.

These aims were 'not arranged in any particular order'.

On February 12, 1973 the Prime Minister announced new arrangements to allow the integration of resources managed by the Education Minister, Kim Beasley, in support of 'the policy of teaching Aborigines in their own languages' (Whitlam, 1973).

On March 27, 1973 the Minister for Education gave a speech about bilingual education to Parliament. William Wentworth did as well. In the same parliamentary session Sam Calder guardedly praised Beazley's initiative and the work done by Watts, McGrath and Tandy, but added, 'Whilst it is difficult for Europeans to teach many of these languages I think that the Government will have quite a lot of trouble in getting the Aboriginal people themselves to teach these languages correctly, as is envisaged'. He went on to say: 'I see the scheme as a way of encouraging Aborigines to be interested in teaching their own children in their own areas so that the children will grow up with respect for and knowledge of their own circumstances and traditions. I am pleased to see that the young ones growing up will be assisted to grasp the situation and to have more self respect as they grow older. In many cases even now they know nothing about their traditions. This scheme should help them to learn about those traditions and to learn the crafts and arts. Many children are rapidly growing into a European way of life. If they want to do so, so much the better for them. They should not be pushed one way or the other. If the young Aborigines enter our way of life it would be a great pity if they entered it without having any chance of knowing about their traditions, background and arts. I commend the paper and hope that the scheme will be successful. I hope that the people will be found to teach the Aboriginal children throughout the length and breadth of the country. This will be difficult as there are many dialects and languages but I am certain that it will be of benefit to them' (Hansard, March 27, 1973, http://goo.gl/lnT7zH).

'In October 1973, at the request of the Commonwealth Government in pursuit of its policies on bilingual education, the School of Australian Linguistics was established within the [Darwin Community] College' (Source: The Darwin Institute of technology: A Historical perspective, p. 5, by Nan Giese).

The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) stated on 6 April 1973 that 'The basic object of my Government 's policy is to restore to the Aboriginal people of Australia their lost power of self-determination in economic, social and political affairs'. He went onto say that: 'An opportunity for self-determination and independent action would serve little purpose if Aboriginals continued to be economically and socially deprived. The Government therefore plans to help them as individuals, groups or communities, in crafts, trades and professions and as business entrepreneurs' (quoted by Dawkins, Hansard, November 5, 1975, http://goo.gl/2ZscVj).

A School-based Curriculum Development model was adopted in the NT in 1973. Ten years later, this was described as 'a disastrous situation' (Memo from Geoff Spring to Janet Margon, February 2, 1983, File 14/81 Part II f. 152). 

In September 1973 Dr Hedley Beare revealed to the Education Minister, Kim Beasley, that his teachers were being directed by staff in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to cease being paternalistic. Students were no longer to be given meals or showers, and were asked to sit on the floor. 'Attendance fell as Aboriginal children hung around home waiting for a substitute for the school meal' (Beazley, 2009, p.208). Reflecting on this, Beazley noted that 'It seemed to me that almost every doctrine embraced by whites about Aborigines damaged them. "Assimilation" dogmas had deprived them of a right to education in their own language. "Anti-paternalism" ignored the fact that children are by nature dependent, and to thrust independence on them prematurely violated her nature. The officers of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs seemed to be advocating neglect in the cause of opposing "paternalism"' (Beazley, 2009, p.208)

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs produced a report which led eventually to the Aboriginal Land Rights (NorthernTerritory) Act 1976 (Cth). The Woodward Commission was appointed in 1973 to consider how land rights for Aborigines could be achieved.

In November 1973 Elections were held to fill positions in the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC).

The Department of Education's first annual report on the Bilingual Programs, compiled by Bill McGrath in December 1973, includes a wealth of detail about that first year of operation. Just a few points of interest will be noted here. Goulburn Island staff reported that when vernacular language instruction was introduced into the pre-school there: 'Learning experiences became enjoyable and meaningful to both child and teacher' (Department of Education, 1973, p.59). Interest in the community gathered momentum. More mothers began to stay on at pre-school. In Infants students were taught vernacular reading using the Gudschinsky method and Maths using the Special Schools maths curriculum. Vernacular language instruction had resulted in some encouraging progress: 'Academically and socially, it is successful. With regards to the Aboriginal teacher, it has given him a role which he can effectively and usefully play. It has added a meaning to education for both teacher and child'.

In December 1973 the first bilingual education handbook was produced 'as an interim measure' (Department of Education, 1973). In the preface W.J. McGrath invited teachers to contribute suggestions. The handbook comprised seven sections: Introduction, Some aims of bilingual education in Northern Territory schools, Roles of teachers involved in bilingual programs, Work in bilingual pre-schools, The role of the linguist, The English component of the bilingual program, Mathematics and the bilingual program.

During the 1973–74 holiday period a six-week course for Teaching Assistants was conducted.


Six additional programs were established (see Devlin et al., 2017, Chap. 2 Table 2.1) : St Therese's (now Murrupurtiyanuwu) began a Model 1 program in Tiwi and English at Nguiu, Bathurst Island. At Shepherdson College at Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island a bilingual program in Gupapuyŋu and English was introduced into two classes. Adult education and linguistic work in Djambarrpuyŋu also started at Galiwin'ku. 

At Oenpelli (Gunbalanya) a Kunwinjku and English program was introduced. It lasted four years.

At Yayayi (an outstation about 50 km west of Papunya) a Pintupi-Luritja and English program began. A set of four primers, Wangka Walytja, was used in the reading program. These had been developed the year before by two linguists, Ken and Lesley Hansen. Each primer comprised 26 weekly units and was accompanied by a handbook for the teacher, as well as flash cards and sentence charts—all modelled on the Breakthrough to literacy approach (Sims, 1981). The pre-school at Papunya also began a bilingual program.

A Tiwi-English program was commenced at Pularumpi (formerly Garden Point). At Yuendumu a Model II bilingual program was introduced into the Infants I class at Yuendumu.  At Yirrkala a bilingual program commenced in Gumatj and English.

The second meeting of the Bilingual Education Consultative Committee was held in Alice Springs March 18-22. The committee members who attended the meeting were Jim Gallacher (Chair), Dr B.Watts, Dr M.Brandl,  J. Tandy, A. Somers, Bill McGrath (Executive Officer) and Ralph Gumudul, an Aboriginal teacher from Goulburn Island. One of the committee's resolutions was that

no decision be made on the development of a bilingual program at Roper River or Bamyili until there have been extensive discussions between the two communities and representatives of the Department of Education and Aboriginal Affairs (CECC, 1974, p.14).

In June 1974, at the invitation of the NT Department of Education, four of the new bilingual programs in operation, and one in preparation, were visited by two linguists: Dr Geoff O'Grady from the University of Victoria, British Columbia in Canada and Dr Ken Hale from MIT in the US. A report of their visit, Recommendations concerning bilingual education in the Northern Territory, was released on July 1. There were 25 recommendations in all. The authors stated that they were 'extremely impressed with the Northern Territory Bilingual Program—so much so that we are inclined to assert that this program constitutes one of the most exciting educational events in the modern world' (p.1). With some prescience they added, 'It is, of course, just beginning and has a long and difficult road ahead of it'. They asserted that 'one of the goals of bilingual education should be to enable Aboriginal communities to gain local control over the education of their children and young adults with the role of non-Aboriginals becoming more consultative in nature' (pp. 3-4).[Ed: Unfortunately, this just did not happen over ensuing decades. If anything the role of non-Aboriginals became more and more directive.] Another important goal (p. 15) was that of 'enabling an Aboriginal scholar to write or talk about literally any subject under the sun".

On p. 24 O'Grady and Hale referred to 'the academic promise of bilingual education' which was that 'vernacular literacy greatly accelerates the acquisition of basic literacy skills'. One of their recommendations (#18) was 'That the introduction of literacy in English be adjusted according to the proficiency of children in vernacular literacy and English' (O'Grady and Hale, 1974, p.5). This report was tabled in the Commonwealth Parliament by Mr Beazley, the Minister for Education, on November 12 1974 (Parliamentary Paper No 329).

On September 26, 1974, a procedural text tabled in Parliament stated that 

The Northern Territory bilingual education program, under which formal education is introduced to young Aboriginal children in their own language, commenced in 1973, at 5 schools. During 1974 bilingual programs were introduced to a further three schools and two pre-schools. More schools are planning to introduce bilingual programs in the next few years. The development of linguistic work in Aboriginal languages has become a matter of some urgency with the new emphasis on teaching in those languages. Following consultation between linguists, educationalists and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, a School of Australian Linguistics is being established within the Darwin Community College. The first members of staff have now taken up duty.

The Government supports special efforts for the benefit of Aboriginal people at all levels of education in all States. This support has been increasing year by year. In 1974-75 it will amount to $5.7m, making possible such fundamentally valuable activities as the widespread employment of Aboriginal teaching aides, specialised programs of teacher training, inservice courses and conferences, innovatory techniques in counselling and guidance and new types of courses for Aboriginal students, as well as extending and improving pre-school facilities for Aboriginal children (Hansard, September 26, 1974, http://goo.gl/DVctyE).

On November 12 1974 Mr Beazley, the Minister for Education, reported to the Commonwealth Parliament that 'special efforts are made to adapt the curriculum of schools and pre-schools in distinctive Aboriginal communities to the needs and the background of the children living in these communities and special efforts are made to encourage Aboriginal children throughout Australia to continue through secondary school and to go on to tertiary education' (Hansard, November 12 1974, http://goo.gl/wkhH08).

The third meeting of the Bilingual Education Consultative Committee was held in Darwin on November 28 and 29 after visits had been made to Bathurst Island, Goulburn Island and Oenpelli the day before. Chaired by Jim Gallacher, it was attended by five committee members: Dr N. Peterson, Dr D. Tryon, J. Tandy, Ms A. Somers and Bill McGrath. This Committee approved the introduction of experimental oral Creole pre-school programs at Bamyili (Barunga) and Roper River (Ngukurr) the following year.

Beginning in 1974 a 'crisis of stagflation' occurred in developed countries, including Australia, resulting in increased inflation, more unemployment, an imbalance in fiscal accounts and negative growth. One contributing factor had been the sharp rise in oil prices initiated by OPEC.The global recession stymied the growth needed to finance Whitlam's initiatives, which had included an improved deal for Aboriginal people, expanded industrial training, a larger university sector, more regional development, and so on.

Guided by Daymbalipu Munuŋgurr and Wäli Wunuŋmurra, Dr Maria Brandl began researching how the Department of Education might respond to the aspirations of Yolŋu people with respect to homeland centres. She adopted a consultation process known as buku-wakthuman (Marika at al. 1992, pp.v 28–29), which tied in with the notions of group reciprocity, group ownership and obligation.

Batchelor College was established, along with Darwin Community College (which included SAL).

When the first general election for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly was held in the Northern Territory on Saturday October 19, 1974, Labor did not win a seat. The CLP obtained 49 per cent of the vote and 17 of the available 19 seats.

On Christmas Eve Cyclone Tracy destroyed much of Darwin, killing 71 people. Half of the senior Bilingual Education advisory staff subsequently left Darwin.

'"The big blow"', as locals called it, went for more than five hours, rattling houses until everything that held them together, every nail along with the nuts and bolts, came loose, at which point the buildings "unzipped". Evaporated into the air. Exploded into the night. Seventy per cent of Darwin's houses were laid waste. Every public building was destroyed or seriously damaged. While the loss of life was limited, the material damage was unparalleled' (Cunningham, 2011). Dr Beare, Director of NT Education, subsequently organised the evacuation of 30 000 people out of Darwin.


Bilingual programs were commenced at Pularumpi (formerly Garden Point) in Tiwi and English. This program only lasted two years. Experimental oral Kriol pre-school programs were authorised at Bamyili (now Barunga) and Roper River (Ngukurr). Numbulwar pre-school commenced an official bilingual program in Nunggubuyu (Wubuy) and English (Lewis, 1975; Carr, Stansell, Wilkinson, 2017).

After Dr Hedley Beare left the NT in early 1975, Dr James (Jim) Eedle was appointed to the Commonwealth Department of Education as First Assistant Secretary with responsibility 'for all school education in the Territory during a period of rapid change and growth' (Carment et al., 2008, p. 168). 

In March 1975 Film Australia spent three weeks on location at Milingimbi, Yuendumu and Yayayi, shooting footage for the film Not to lose you my language. They did not record any reading or writing in English as the programs had not advanced that far.

On June 2, 1975 Mr Beazley, the Minister for Education, tabled in Parliament the First progress report on the bilingual education program in schools in the Northern Territory, dated December 1973.

The O'Grady and Hale Report was tabled as Parliamentary Paper No. 329, Recommendations concerning bilingual education in the Northern Territory.

In 1975 the Department of Education surveyed 31 NT schools, of which 23 had some kind of bilingual program, whether 'formal' or 'informal: Angurugu, Areyonga, Bamyili, Bathurst Island, Croker Island, Dhupuma College, Docker River, Elcho Island, Goulburn Island, Gumadirr, Haasts Bluff, Lave Evella, Maningrida, Milingimbi, Numbulwar, Oenpelli, Port Keats, Snake Bay, Umbakumba, Yayayi, Yirrkala and Yuendumu (Evaluation and Assessment Unit, 1975, Table 14). Altogether there were 5188 Aboriginal students enrolled at 31 schools: 997 in formal bilingual programs, 1700 in informal ones and 2491 in other programs (Evaluation and Assessment Unit, 1975, Table 16).

'Formal programs' referred to any Model I or Model II programs introduced by the Northern Territory Education Division of the Australian Department of Education in line with the Watts, McGrath and Tandy Report (1973). 

It was reported (1975 Evaluation, Table 14) that at Yirrkala 'all students speak a children's language, "Baby' Gumatj" which cuts across the other language barriers in the area and 18% will ultimately speak Gumatj'.

Sometime later that year there was a move within the Department of Education to reduce the bilingual program to a small pilot project. 

The Whitlam Government officially handed back land to the Gurindji people at Daguragu on August 16, 1975. This was in line with the Government's view that it was important to restore 'to the Aboriginal people their lost power of self-determination in economic, social and political affairs'. After the Whitlam Government lost power in November 1975 as a result of a constitutional crisis, this principle of self-determination was set aside. The Liberal and National Country Party Government announced that it supported self management instead, declaring that 'Aborigines and Islanders should be free as other Australians to determine their own varied futures'.

At this time, 'The White Australia Policy ... was still largely in place even in 1975' (Catley, 2005, p.8).

3. Consolidation (1976-); backlash (1998-); reinstatement (2005-); closure (2008-)


 Programs commenced at Barunga (formerly Bamyili) in Kriol, at Haasts Bluff in Pintupi-Luritja, at Numbulwar in Nunggubuyu (Wubuy) and Wadeye in Murrinh Patha (See Table 4.3 in  Devlin 2011 for more information). It might be worth noting here that the vernacular language used at Numbulwar was Wubuy, which "has also been referred [to] as Nunggubuyu but this is the name for the people" (Carr, Wilkinson, &  Stansell, 2017, p. 151). The Bamyili program lasted approximately 16 years. The one at Wadeye only continued for four years initially, but was recommenced in 1996.

A community-based teacher education program began at Yirrkala. It was "the first on-site Teacher Education program" (Stockley, et al., 2017, p. 142).

Mr Calder (Northern Territory) observed in the House of Representatives on March 17, 1976 that "We can see what has happened under the self-determination policy which was brought in by the Labor Party. A former Minister declared that self determination was a disaster. It is a disaster and it will continue to be so while such a policy is espoused" (Hansard, March 17, 1976, http://goo.gl/V6xiI2).

On April 28, 1976 a group of senior Willowra men wrote to the Northern Territory Division of the Commonwealth Department of Education to request that "the Education Department to make a study into the feasibility of a bilingual program at Willowra school" (Vaarzon-Morel, &  Wafer, 2017, p. 33).

Jim Gallacher was seconded, on August 12, 1976, to investigate a number of issues including "the causes of reduced school enrolments and attendance" and to advise on "in-service training courses particularly relating to outstation and bilingual education" (Memo from James Eedle, File 76/927).

On August 16, 1976 Dr James Eedle, Director, Northern Territory Division, directed that further expansion of bilingual programs be limited, and that existing programs be consolidated and evaluated. This began a period of consolidation. Jim Eedle stated that "the aims and objectives for Aboriginal education as stated in the Watts-Gallagher report should be restated for the benefit of teachers, principals and educational administrators throughout the Northern Territory. Prospective teachers were expected to have studied "the teaching of English as a Second Language, elements of anthropology, social linguistics, history and geography of the Northern Territory and health education". With respect to bilingual programs Dr Eedle requested that "Further expansion be limited and existing programs be consolidated and evaluated prior to an eventual decision as to which should be maintained indefinitely" (Eedle, 1976, p.2). He also called for "a shift in emphasis so that the bilingual programme is recognised as providing a bridge to English once lasting grounding in the local language has been established" (Eedle, 1976, p.2)

The Liberal-National Country Party coalition  government reduced funding for Aboriginal education in the Northern Territory by 34.7 per cent (Hansard, September 14, 1976, http://goo.gl/5GnPFc).

On September 23, 1976 the Director of the Northern Territory Division, Jim Eedle, wrote to all Department of Education staff to say that "Government policy, implemented by the department, pledges full support to the bilingual programs in the N.T." (Circular 76/178). He added:

Although the program is still in its infancy, evidence of the achievement of these and wider goals is beginning to emerge. Since 1973 there has been a dramatic increase in the publication of a wide range of literature in Aboriginal languages. Allied with this development has been the establishment of a growing body of Aboriginal professionals: literacy workers, writers, illustrators and Aboriginal teachers. A resurgence of overt interest in traditional culture has been observed throughout the Northern Territory. Community involvement at all levels of the school program and the integration of the classroom and the community environment has promoted a greater use of Aboriginal languages, increased spontaneity and participation in the classroom and a higher level of confidence and competence in Aboriginal teachers and teacher aides.

Jim Eedle concluded his circular with this observation:

Finally, may I reiterate that it is departmental policy for bilingual education programs to continue in the N.T., and that our aim for the immediate future is consolidation of existing programs to ensure that every opportunity is given for these programs to prove their value.

(Circular 76/178)

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) was passed, following the report of the Woodward Commission. The original Commonwealth legislation had been drafted by the Whitlam Government and introduced to parliament in October 1975.

On October 12, 1976 Peter Falconer (Member for Casey) presented these views on bilingual education to Parliament: 

While it might not appear to honourable members that the bilingual education program has much application to my electorate I would point out that in my electorate there is the Australian headquarters of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, the academic arm of the Wycliffe bible translators. This organisation is deeply involved in bilingual education programs not only in Australia but throughout the world. I think it is fair to say that it has played an initiating role in developing bilingual education programs in various parts of the world. The need for bilingual education programs in Australia has been recognised in recent years for the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory in particular but it does have applications in other contexts as well. Of course, the idea behind the bilingual program is that the child who has learnt to speak another tongue—in the case of Australia, a tongue other than English—needs to be taught initially how to read and write in that language before making the jump into the English language. There is great difficulty in making the jump from a spoken language which has no literature immediately into the English language and being able to cope with the English literature involved. If that person can be taught to read and write in his or her own language the emotional and intellectual jump involved in then transferring to the English language is much easier to manage. This is the idea behind the bilingual education programs.

In many cases, as far as Aboriginal communities are concerned, this has meant sending people out to actually put a language on paper in the first instance. Often this has involved moving among tribes in the situation in which they have lived for many years and starting from scratch to develop a literature for a few hundred people who speak that dialect. As a result great advances are being made in the teaching of English in Northern Territory schools. The role which the Summer Institute of Linguistics has played has not been limited to its particular religious attitudes and aims. As a group of people committed to a certain purpose or cause arising out of their religious beliefs they have been more prepared than most other people to commit themselves to spend 2, 3 or 4 years with a particular community in order to commit that language to paper. So it is that many governments throughout the world have seen fit to finance the Summer Institute of Linguistics in its activities in order to provide government agencies with the basic literature on which they can conduct bilingual educational programs.

I can only applaud this move and hope that the good relationships which the Summer Institute of Linguistics has developed with the Department of Education and with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs will continue to grow and develop because there is mutual benefit in a cooperative relationship of this kind. I believe we can do a great deal more to apply the principle of bilingual education to many schools in the community other than the Aboriginal communities of Australia. (Hansard, October 12, 1976)


Two NT schools also began Model I bilingual programs in 1977: Umbakumba in Anindilyakwa and English (a program that lasted approximately five years) and Willowra (Wirliyajarrayi) in Warlpiri and English. Three schools, Angurugu, Bamyili and Oenpelli, also commenced Model II programs. Etherington (1986, 34) has explained why the program at Oenpelli was not considered to be successful and so was subsequently discontinued in 1983.

Umbakumba was featured in the Report to the Bilingual education consultative committee for the year ended August 1977, prepared by the Principal, Rod Stone. One problem alluded to was that the Commonwealth Teaching Service was not providing enough appropriate staff; i.e., those who were "infant trained." Another, was the lack of agreement over the Anindilyakwa orthography. "In July, the Adult literacy program received a setback when due to inconsistent spelling 216 books had to be destroyed."

On April 29, 1977 the Principal of Yirrkala School (Owen Faust) advised an Aboriginal elder (Dadayŋa Marika) that "the shortage of teachers is seriously affecting the work of the school: the bilingual program, the outstation movement and the teacher training program" (NTDE File YS/47/77/21).

Lack of staff was also identified at Numbulwar by the Principal, Henry Gray in Aspects of bilingual development: Numbulwar, 1977. The point was made strongly that toleration of ad-hoc staffing arrangements by the Deapartment of Education detracted from the operation of the school's bilingual program. The principal also criticised the lack of clarity with respect to some overlapping roles; e.g., teacher linguist and literature production supervisor.

Mr Beazley (Fremantle), who held the Education portfolio throughout the Whitlam government's term of office, advised Parliament on May 26, 1977 that 

One of the first decisions we made in education was that there should be a bilingual program in Aboriginal education. No demand for this came from Aboriginal parents. Many of them jumped at the opportunity of having education in their own languages in their schools when the proposition was put to them and I understand that it has now grown to a point where there is education in 22 Aboriginal languages around the Northern Territory. However, there was no articulate demand for it from Aboriginal parents, although they needed it. 

 (Hansard, May 26, 1977, http://goo.gl/2QB8O2).

By 1977 logistical difficulties were besetting bilingual education, even while it was under Commonwealth control. The Bilingual Education Consultative Committee noted in August 1977 that "The Bilingual Program appears to be developing and gaining strength in a manner which recollects credit on all concerned". Nonetheless, it recommended that it "be assigned a degree of priority across all areas within the Department recognising the special effort required in implementing and developing a system's innovation". This was because of apparent difficulties "in securing and obtaining resources for all bilingual programmes" given the reduction in the number of Aboriginal Assistant Teacher positions from 136 to 125", difficulty in obtaining stores for printing, filling public service positions, and so on. 

Staff ceilings for schools with bilingual programs were mentioned in this Parliamentary exchange on Thursday, August 25, 1977:

Q: Mr BEAZLEY (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Education: Have staff ceilings imposed on

the Aboriginal bilingual education program in the Northern Territory been lifted due to the fact that the scheme was started only in 1973 and it was envisaged that there would be an increasing need for staff as the Aboriginal children concerned proceeded up the primary school?

A: Mr VINER -The bilingual education program is undergoing an evaluation by my colleague at the present time. It is the first evaluation since the program was instituted. Both my colleague and I have a very high regard for the program and place considerable importance on it. I have been to a number of schools where the program is in operation. I have found that it is of great benefit to the Aboriginal children and that there is great enthusiasm by the teachers concerned. As to the particular point regarding staff ceilings, I will refer the question to my colleague and have an answer provided to the honourable gentleman (Hansard August 25, 1977, http://goo.gl/qQJQ84).

The Bilingual Education Consultative Commitee (BECC) met in Darwin August 24-26. In attendance were Mr Jim Gallacher (Chair), Ms A. Sommers, Mr J. Tandy, Dr N. Peterson and Dr D. Tryon. At the time Jim Gallacher was Assistant Director (Special Projects) in the Department of Education, Darwin; A Sommers was from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Canberra; J. Tandy was from the Department of Education, Canberra; N. Peterson was in the Department of Pre-history and Anthropology at ANU and Dr D Tryon was at the Department of Linguistics at ANU. 

A conference for linguists and teacher linguists was held in Darwin, October 20-24, 1977. Those present at this conference included Dr Daryl Tryon, a member of the Bilingual Education Consultative Committee, and Dr Bruce Sommer, the new SEA Linguistics. (Source: Bilingual Education Newsletter, 77/7, edited by D J Williams, E.A. Bilingual).

The CLP retained government in the 1977 elections and on September 21 Paul Everingham was elected Chief Minister. 


On July 1 the Australian Government ceded its control over education to the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 was passed. Most of the provisions of that act came into operation on July 1. In August 1978 Cabinet Decision no. 375 set out NTG policy with respect to decentralisation and regionalisation. Centrally located professional and administrative staff were to be deployed to regional offices. Most Federal Government functions were transferred to the Northern Territory, but not responsibility for Aboriginal Affairs or uranium mining.

After Dr James Eedle became Secretary of the newly created Department of Education in the Northern Territory, NTbilingual programs entered a consolidation phase (1978–1986). 'Consolidation' meant that there was no money available to establish new programs. However, one NT school, Maningrida, did begin a bilingual program in Ndjebbana and English.

The Aboriginal language used in the bilingual program at Galiwin'ku was switched from Gupapuyŋu to Djambarrpuyŋu. However, those students who had commenced their bilingual schooling in Gupapuyŋu and English were allowed to continue. In June that year onsite teacher training also started at Galiwin'ku (Noela Hall, pers.comm, August 29, 2014). A separate program in Gälpu was introduced for the children who spoke that clan language.

At Milingimbi Yolngu teachers began organising the Natural Science program at the school in 1978. They did this the following year as well (Milingimbi School Report, 1979).

Kral (2015) notes that "By 1978, the Santa Teresa community had begun developing a bilingual program within the Catholic education system".

Dr Everingham (Capricornia) claimed in Parliament on September 13, 1978 that "Spending on Aboriginal education has also suffered under this Government. Spending on Aboriginal education as a proportion of the total education budget has dropped from 2.2 per cent under the Australian Labor Party Government to 1.8 per cent under the Fraser Government. This is the answer of the Government to the fact that only one percent of Aboriginal students reach matriculation. Bilingual teaching is poorly provided and bi-cultural education exists hardly at all except where adedicated teacher makes a special voluntary effort" (Hansard, September 13, 1978, http://goo.gl/L8zB1W).

Mr Staley, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, reported to Parliament on November 21, 1978 that "In the Northern Territory there has been a particular emphasis on the second language approach to learning English to ease the transition for Aboriginal students to learn English. New reading material has been prepared, and additional staff have been appointed specifically to supervise the development of Aboriginal reading. Also the bilingual education program, which is operating in some 18 schools in the Northern Territory, is designed to enable Aboriginals to develop linguistic competence" (Hansard, November 24, 1978, http://goo.gl/HhnxcA)

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Viner, advised on November 24, 1978 that "The Government has been helping Aboriginals throughout Australia to maintain, develop and restore and rebuild their cultural identity through the programs of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council and through bi-cultural and bilingual education programs" (Hansard, November 24, 1978, http://goo.gl/UNBfmP).

On the same day (November 24) Mr Staley, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, advisedParliament that "An important innovation in Aboriginal education in recent years has been the introduction of bilingual programs. The bilingual program inthe Northern Territory now involves 19 schools in Aboriginal communities. Twelve different Aboriginal languages are used along with English in formalprograms. In addition a number of schools use the local Aboriginal language in an informal way". Apparently unaware that Maningrida had begun a bilingual program in Ndjebbana and English, he went on to say that "At Maningrida, for example, the large number of languages spoken precludes a formal program in any one of them, but it is possible for some of the older children to be introduced to literacy in their own language. Bilingual programs withcharacteristics similar to those operating in the Northern Territory are now also operating in several Aboriginal communities in the States including thefollowing: Kowanyama, Aurukun (Qld.), Ernabella, Fregon, Amata and indulkana (SA) and Warburton (WA). As in the Northern Territory, the local language isused extensively in outstation education wherever this development occurs. Use of the local language on a less structured basis occurs in other communities particularly Yalata (SA), Yandeyarra, Oombulgurri and Strelley (WA)" (Hansard, November 24, 1978, http://goo.gl/DI9tu6)

Later, in the same address, Parliament was advised that "The Government has actively encouraged the appointmentof Aboriginals as teachers and teacher assistants in the Northern Territory. Twelve Aboriginals have now qualified for recognition as permanent teachers bythe Commonwealth Teaching Service. A further nineteen have completed two years training to qualify for appointment of temporary teachers, and another group of 57 have completed part of their teacher training course. While the numbers are still not large, they represent a growing and significant involvement of theAboriginal people in their education. The Roper River school is staffed by Aboriginals, including the first Aboriginal principal in the NorthernTerritory. In addition, some 300 teacher assistants are employed in Northern Territory schools. There are also some 400 Aboriginals employed in teachingpositions in the States. Some of these are qualified teachers; the remainder hold positions as teacher assistants" (Staley, Hansard, November 24,1978, http://goo.gl/DI9tu6)

"Bilingual programs have been introduced to all Southern Region Aboriginal communities which satisfy certaincriteria, one of which is a request from the community that such a program be commenced. Currently five Government schools conduct a bilingual program in thesouthern region and it is hoped to expand the program to Santa Teresa school in the near future" (Staley, Hansard, November 24, 1978, http://goo.gl/DI9tu6)

On Sept 6 1978 K.A.Ritichie advised Canberra that "Bilingual programs have been introduced to all thoseSouthern Region Aboriginal communities which satisfy certain criteria, one being a request from the community that such a program be commenced. Presentlyfive Government schools conduct a bilingual program in the southern region of the N.T." (NTRS 550 P2/ Box 1) He went to add that : Some future expansion of programs is anticipated (e.g. Santa Teresa) but in other communities expansion will be restricted either by the diversity of Aboriginal languages spoken, or the willingness of the Public Service Board and the Commissioner of the C.T.S. to expand the number of specialist staff positions necessary toservice any such expansion".

A conference for teacher-linguists, linguists and bilingual education co-ordinators was held at Anula School, June 27th–29th. The two guest speakers at this conference were Professor R Kaplan and Joan Fry. A workshop fopr principals of bilingual schools was held July 4th–6th. The speaker at that event was John Molesworth, Principal of Parap School. The Bilingual Education Consultative Committee met in Alice Springs, August 10th–11th, 1978 (Bilingual Education Newsletter, May 30th, 1978).

By September 1978 there were 53 Aboriginal people undertaking teacher training in the NT (Ritchie, 1978).

On October 26, 1978 the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Viner, announced the Government's intention "to legislate for the creation of an Aboriginal Development Agency" which would "put forward new kinds of programs designed to contribute to the self-sufficiency of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities" (Hansard, Thursday, 26 October 1978, http://goo.gl/yFRBhx).

The Shimpo Report, an independent assessment of Aboriginal education, was released.


Taking over from the Commonwealth Department for Education, the Northern Territory Government assumed full responsibility for providingeducation services from July.


Docker River commenced a bilingual program in Pitjantjatjara and English.

Angurugu ceased to offer a bilingual program. One reason was that the school wanted post-primary girls to read in Anindilyakwa after initial literacy in English, but this was not acceptable to advisers in head office. Another was that only one Anindilyakwa-speaking person was willing to work in the program. The third difficulty related to orthography problems.

Both Santa Teresa and Maningrida were considered to be "bilingual schools in preparation" (NTDE, 1979).

"For a number of operational reasons" the bilingual program at Numbulwar "was formally suspended in 1979" (Carr,  Wilkinson,  &  Stansell,  2017, p. 151).

A Band 1 teacher-linguist appointment at Goulburn Island school was recommended by Graham McGill, Dr Stephen Harris and Les Robertson, and so Mr David Stainsby was moved from Alyangula to Goulburn. His duties as teacher-linguist were restricted compared to other Band 2 teacher-linguists. For example, Band 2 teacher-linguists were involved in developing vernacular curriculum materials, but at Goulburn, Island, since it was thought that "To increase the level of Maung literacy would demand a lot of time, effort and expertise", it was therefore suggested that the bilingual program should just be restricted to the early years.

In 1979 the attendance rate of the 120 students in Milingimbi's primary school section averaged 80 per cent (Kathy Gale inthe Milingimbi School Report, 1979).

By the late 1970s there were 10 advisers servicing the bilingual program from Head Office (located on Level 3 of the T&G building in Smith Street). By 1991 there was only one. The Minister of Education explained (in 1991) that "the Department of Education's aim has been to gradually mainstream bilingual education so that it fits into the normal pattern of schooling and is accepted as the responsibilityof local and regional supervisors. This has meant that the central infrastructure had to be dismantled" (File 93/483, f.190).

Bilingual staff from several Arnhem Land schools attended an Early Childhood Education Conference at Milingimbi, June 28-29.

Dr James Wafer carried out research which showed that "in Central Australia (taken to be the half of the Northern Territory south of Elliot) there are more speakers of Aboriginal languages than there are speakers of English" (Aboriginal Languages Association Newsletter,  1, April 1981)


By 1980 there were bilingual programs operating in 13 government schools and two mission schools. In a further seven schools programs were in various stages of preparation (NTDE, 1980, p.14). In addition to head office staff the Bilingual Program in the NT was supported by 13 teacher-linguists, five field linguists, eight literature production supervisors, 16 literacy workers, and a some part time field workers (NTDE file in the NT Archives NTRS 550/P2 Box 1 1/81) 

The Bilingual Education Unit, comprising seven headquarters staff, was incorporated into the Curriculum Branch. 

The Bilingual Education Consultative Committee was placed under Feppi's control.

new policy regarding bilingual education was set out in the February NTDE Education Bulletin (Notice no. 80/9, File no. 76/281). This included reference to plans to evaluate school bilingual programs. Given that the bilingual program throughout the NT cost $1.1 million, the evaluation exercise (1980-2) was an attempt to justify that expense (Kevin Davis, pers comm. April 17, 1980). 

Yirrkala Community School was identified as the first to undergo bilingual accreditation in 1980. Mrs Anne Richards, from the Evaluation and Research Section of the Education Department, tested Year 7 students in the last week of October. Brian Devlin advised Graham McGill, PEA Bilingual/Aboriginal Curriculum on November 7 that "Although the test scores are not yet final, I have sufficient scores to establish the pattern of performance in all written tests. As I assisted Anne with the statistical work I am aware of comparative test averages for the 3 groups: 5/6 Bilingual, 5/6 non-bilingual, 6/7 non-bilingual...I do not think I am breaching a confidence if I say that the Bilingual students did well, and that the results are a striking vindication of the Bilingual program". Bilingual Year 5/6 students at Yirrkala out-performed non-bilingual 5/6 students in every test, an interesting outcome given that non-bilingual 5/6 students were older and had been at school at least an additional year, not to mention that their instruction had been in English".

The official view of how a school with a bilingual program should be structured was that should be one year of preschool (for children aged 4+), a Transition phase (for children 5+ years in age), Years 1–3 (Ages 6–8) with transition to English literacy occuring in Year 4 (age 9). Milingimbi was roundly criticised by senior NTDE staff for seeking to delay transfer to English literacy (Kevin Davis, pers. comm. April 17, 1980).

Staff turnover was 22 per cent during the 1979-80 period (NTDE, 1980, p.5).

An intensive training course was held for teacher-linguists during stand-down in Darwin, May 6-18, 1980. An Aboriginal Writers' Workshop was arranged in Darwin, May 13-16, by Cos Russo. A Creative Writers workshop, also organised by Cos Russo, was held at Batchelor, June 2-6. This was attended by a number of literacy workers from around the Northern Territory.

A NE Arnhem Land Regional Conference of teachers in bilingual programs, arranged by Brian Devlin, was held at Yirrkala, June 25–27, 1980.

Umbakumba's program was suspended "while the spelling system [in Anindilyakwa] is resolved" (File 86/2680 f45).

Kevin Davis, the Assistant Secretary of NTDE, was understood to be considering a proposal to institute a scholarship scheme for Aboriginal teachers in training so that their positions in the home school become vacant and replacements may be found (pers. comm., Graham McGill,May 1, 1980).

Dhupuma College was abruptly closed on August 21, 1980.

A translation workshop was held December 1–12, 1980.

The Curriculum Development Centre produced a video in which Ms Loueen Scott interviewed Dr Stephen Harris about bilingual programs in Aboriginal schools (Christie, Harris, O’Brien, & Scott, 1980).

The Aboriginal Development Commission was established to assist the economic and social development of Aboriginalpeople and achieve self-management and economic self-sufficiency through the acquisition of land, becoming involved in businesses and and providing finance for housing.


Three NT schools commenced a bilingual program: (1) Maningrida School began one in Ndjebbana and English; (2) M'Bunghara Homeland Centre began a Pintupi/ Luritja and English program, which lasted nine years. (3) Watiyawanu (Mt Liebig) also started a Pintupi/Luritjaand English program, according to Black (1993, p. 210), citing Bubb (1990).  In Appendix 8 of the Collins Report the same date is given. It was in that year that the teacher left to establish a school at Walungurru  (Watiyawanu, 2014) so the remaining assistant teacher may have started an informal bilingual program which lasted a while and was then recommenced in 1987. 

In October 1981 the Aboriginal Curriculum/Bilingual Education Unit of the NT Department of Education published a pamphlet shown what additional programs were in operation or in preparation. The following list records the vernacular language names and place names as they were spelled then: Areyonga (Pitjantatjara), Milingimbi (Gupapuyngu), Bathurst Island (Tiwi), Elcho Island (Djambarrpuyngu, Galpu), Haasts Bluff (Pintubi/Luritja), Oenpelli (Kunwinku), Yirrkala (Gumatj), Yuendumu (Warlpiri), Bamyili (Kriol), Docker River (Pitjantatjara), Umbakumba (Anindilyakwa), Port Keats (Murinbatha), Willowra (Warlpiri), Pupunya Western Homeland Centres (Pintubi/Luritja), and Maningrida (Djebbana). These programs varied in strength. Docker River did not have a teacher linguist and was dependent on Areyonga for its bilingual materials (NTRS 550 P2 f.57), so the Director of the Southern Branch reported on February 1982.

Programs in preparation in 1981 included Maningrida (Nakara and Bururra), Angurugu (Anindilyakwa), Santa Teresa(Aranda), Ngukurr (Kriol), Lajamanu (Warlpiri), Numbulwar (Ngunggubuyu/Kriol), Papunya Cenral School and Eastern homeland centres (Aranda).

In response to a question on notice from Mr Isaacs in the Legislative Assembly the Minister explained that the allocation for bilingual programs in 1981-2 (excluding salaries) was $122 000. The amount spent, however, was $95 936. Of the programs in operation three were "experiencing problems with developing an orthography, low attendance and unavailability of suitable staff" (NTRS 550/P2 Box 1 1/81 f.47).

Work on a new education policy framework had begun in September 1980. A green paper on the direction of primary and secondary education for the 1980s was distributed for comment and tabled in the Legislative Assembly in February 1981. NT Cabinet considered it the same month. One of the initiatives was to evaluate and accredit bilingual programs. The aim was to achieve this for all of them by the end of 1984 (Northern Territory Schools: Directions for the Eighties, p. 8). Marshall Perron, Minister for Education, tabled Directions for the Eighties in parliament in March 23, 1981.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser advised that the Education and Research Development Committee would be terminated and the number of Commonwealth staff reduced by 1600-1700 (NTDE File 24/81 f53). On April 13 1981 Jim Gallacher, co-author of the Watts-Gallacher report and Director of the Office of Aboriginal Liaison, wrote to the Chief Minister on April 30 1981 to argue that "it is wrong at this stage of Aboriginal advancement for Aboriginal employees to be subjected to staff ceiling restrictions" (NTRS 550/P2, f.8). 

By November 1981 the number of NT Department of Education staff had been reduced by 166 (G J Spring, Dep Sec Policy Planning and Services to the Minister, Feb 19, 1982). NTDE "sustained a cut of approximately $1.4M in administrative expenses below its baseline for the previous year" (NTDE File 24/81 f10).

The Secretary of NTDE, S P Saville, appealed to M F Finger, Dept of Chief Minister on March 4, 1981 to "use your influence to correct any misconceptions which are current about 'extravagance'. In fact the reverse is the case. We have worked very hard to live within our means, finding ways to absorb the restrictions placed upon us...and...to avoid embarrassment to the government" (NTDE File 24/81f10).

In August 1981 NT Cabinet considered an information paper on a treaty or Makarrata, which would have included protection of Indigenous identity, language, law and culture, but it was decided to set the matter aside, pending proposals from the National Aboriginal Conference.

The Aboriginal Languages Association (ALA) was established.

On December 1 the leader of the Opposition, Bob Collins, asked a question without notice concerning the apparent fall in enrolments at Batchelor College. The Minister replied on January 26, 1982. He explained that in 1981 there had been 120 applications, 75 of which had been accepted. In 1982 only 63 applied. He noted that only 15 of these were NTDE employees and just 41 were accepted.

The RATE Program cost $114 000 (salaries $16 000; Admin expenses $98 000).

At the end of 1981 the population of the Northern Territory was estimated to be 126 300.


One NT school began a bilingual program in this year: Lajamanu (formerly Hooker Creek) in Warlpiri and English. The program subsequently ceased to operate from 1991 to 1996, apart from an unsuccessful attempt to revive it over a 10-week period in 1992.

The bilingual program at Umbakumba was "suspended while work continues on finalising a spelling system there." (Bilingual Education Newsletter, 82-1). 

The NT Government endorsed the continuation of bilingual programs and published a list of eight aims, the first of which was "To develop competency in English (reading and writing) and in mathematics to the level required on leaving school to function withoutdisadvantage in the wider Australian community". This was a shift from the earlier statement in 1975: "To help each child to believe in himself and be proud of his heritage by the regular use of the Aboriginal language in school and by learning about Aboriginal culture". It represented a shift of focus from maintenance of language and culture to a transition to English. These revised aims had been approved by the Minister for Education, Jim Robertson, on November 17, 1982. The goal was to (1) make the procedures for evaluating bilingual programs more manageable and specific, (2) to respond to the new developments associated with the core curriculum and (3) to reflect more clearly Education Department policy as outlined in the Handbook for Aboriginal bilingual education in the Northern Territory.

The bilingual programs in three schools (Yirrkala, St Therese's on Bathurst Island and Elcho Island) were granted provisional accreditation.

By 1982 bilingual programs were said to be operating in 16 schools (14 Government and two Mission) and 12 languages,"reaching more than half the Aboriginal population" (NTDE File 36/81 Part I, f85). However, at Willowra the teacher-linguist's position was vacant,so Earl Watter, the Director of Southern Branch, advised the Secretary on February 8.

On April 21 Kevin Davis wrote to the Minister, explaining that Feppi had ceased to operate effectively and thereforeso did Batchelor College's Board of Governors "as the majority of the Board of Governors was drawn from Feppi" (NTDE File 8/81).

On October 25 Ian Wilson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, wrote to J.M. Robertson, NT Minister for Education: 

My dear Minister 

I have received representations from the National Aboriginal Conference (N.A.C.), P.O. Box 259, Woden, A.C.T., 2606, requesting the reasons for a cut in funding for the bi-lingual education programs in the Northern Territory.

As the funding of this program is the responsibility of the Northern Territory Government, I am referring the matter to you for reply direct to the National Chairman of the 
N.A.C., Mr Roy Nichols, at the above address. I would appreciate a copy of your response. 

Yours sincerely

Ian Wilson (NTRS 550/P2 Box 1/81 Part III)

In November Kevin Davis was quietly released from his normal duties as Deputy Secretary in the Department of Education so that he could prepare the Department's position in preparation for the Supreme Court hearing of the Yipirinya appeal.


The Australian economy was in recession. Following the election of the Labor government in 1983 each administration thereafter promoted, with varying degrees of vigour, the liberalisation of the Australian economy.

Two NT schools began bilingual programs: Walungurru (Kintore) in Pintupi/Luritja and English; and Yipirinyabecame an official independent Aboriginal school, supported by direct Commonwealth funding, after having operated as a "de facto" program for several years. It offered a bilingual program in four language varieties: Eastern Arrernte, Pitjantjatjara, Warlpiri and Western Arrernte languages.

The Batchelor College Development Plan outlined how that institution would "operate in the future as a major tool for Aboriginal development" (NTDE File 8/81 ff.129-134). New course arrangements were announced by the Minister for Education (Marshall Perron) on February 11. A three-year Associate Diploma in Teaching (Aboriginal Studies) was introduced.

Beth Graham ran an inservice for teachers at Strelley School, April 17-23.

In October 1983 the Secretary of the NT Department of Education, S P Saville, advised that Year 5 and Year 7 students in Aboriginal Schools would be assessed as part of the NT Assessment Program. Participation by schools was not compulsory (Circular no. 83/78, File no. 83/1835).

Commonwealth policy on self-determination was outlined by Clyde Holding, the Federal Minister forAboriginal Affairs, as follows: "This Government looks to achieve further progress for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the two principles of consultation and self-determination, that is, with the involvement of the Aboriginal people in the whole process ... All our policies, each of our programs and projects, have been and will continue to be fashioned in discussions with Aboriginal people and their organisations at national andcommunity levels" (Hon C Holding MHR, Commonwealth of Australia 134 Parl Debates (H of R), December 8, 1983), 3487).

The CLP Government was re-elected on December 3, 1983.


Papunya began a bilingual program in Pintupi-Luritja and English.

Staff reductions, and a decline in funding support for programs, began to affect operations in bilingual schools from around 1984 onwards. 

For example, bilingual education positions in head office were progressively cut, to just a Principal Education Officer, Principal Linguist and Education Officer in 1984, whereas in 1980 there had been six head office advisers.

The bilingual program at Oenpelli was officially ended after failing to achieve privisional accreditation. It had operated from 1974 to 1984 ( Bilingual Education Newsletter, 85 (1/2), p.3). 

ATSIC was abolished.


A new bilingual program in Burarra and English commenced at Maningrida after two positions (teacher-linguist and literacy worker) had been transferred from Oenpelli.

In early 1985 the Minister for Education directed that Departmental activities be extensively reviewed (DAA file 84/105 f.143). As a result of that review the Department was completely reorganised and 50 positions disappeared, affecting all sections of the Department.

On February 22, 1985 the Department of Education advised that it was unable to fund the linguists at Yirrkala and Galiwinku (Letter from GJ Spring to DAA, DAA file 84/105, f.140). The staffing reductions included one of three senior education advisers, two of the six linguists and half of the teaching assistants. This move was protested, among others, by W Dix, Principal of AIATSIS, in his letter dated July 5, 1985 to the Chief Minister, Mr Tuxworth. Dix wrote, "This will have a devastating effect. There were previously only six linguists working on fourteen languages for which there were bilingual programmes. The teaching assistants, who do the translating in the classroom are crucial to the programme. In order to demonstrate the efficacy and value of the programme, which must be seen as a long term project, more, not less staff are needed".

On April 21 Peter Walsh, the Federal Finance Minister, claimed that the Northern Territory was overfunded.

In June 1985 it was pointed out in Territory Teacher that, as a result of the cutbacks, "The Bilingual programme as a whole will suffer. This will lead to a vicious circle of badly running programmes which will then close, effecting more 'savings'". The Departmental Review resulted in Bronwyn Eather not being replaced as linguist at Maningrida or Anita van der Wal as linguist at Milingimbi.

On August 2, 1985 Clyde Holding, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, wrote to the federal Office of Professional Officers to express his concern about "the total impact of the proposed changes on the education of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory" (DAAfile 84/105 f.142).

Mike Halloran, the Literature Production Supervisor at Maningrida, died at the age of 57.

Dr Bruce Sommer, the Principal Linguist, referred to "resistance to literacy among the AboriginalAT's" at Maningrida. However, seven months later Dr Stephen Harris, the PEO Bilingual, reported "dramatic improvement over the last 12 months in [the]literacy and fluency levels of Aboriginal staff in the program".

As mentioned above, the linguist's position at Maningrida was abolished, and so Bronwyn Eather was forced to discontinue her work. She had been at Maningrida for five years in all with time out for study leave. The PEO Bilingual noted that "She has been of very practical support to the program. The following are examples of the type of contribution she has made: trained Teacher-linguist in practical knowledgeabout grammar and translation basic to any production of Njebbana reading materials; checked spelling and grammar of written materials; analysed theappropriateness of close activities in Njebbana as a means of improving comprehension; analysed Njebbana Instant Readers to see how cognitively demanding they are and to see how suitable their vocabulary is; informally studied what appeared to be interesting or not to Njebbana children; cooperated in collecting data for language analysis which would be immediately useful for classroom activities, e.g. classification of 40 types of local shells; worked on maths spatial concepts and natural science classification; monitored Assistant Teachers' teaching in Njebbana to see if it made good sense; helped Njebbana AT's to talk about Maths in terms of everyday understandings; joined in "Learning Together Sessions"; with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff; took Njebbana staff literacy classes when necessary ..." (Harris, 1985, pp. 8-9)

In her report for 1985 Bronwyn Eather noted that, with respect to Maningrida: "there are now two bilingualprograms, no linguists and no grammars of either language". She added: "In view of the Department's apparent reluctance to support linguistic fieldwork in Maningrida, perhaps Bilingual programs should consider approaching University departments with their urgent research topics, asking the local school for support such as accommodation and work-space (p.2)"

On September 2 1985 the PEO Bilingual, Stephen Harris, strongly recommended that the Njebbana-English program at Maningrida School be allowed to continue even though some practical concerns had previously been identified. These included difficulties with the orthography, assistant teachers who were "not sufficiently literate in their language" , a non-Aboriginal teacher who was challenged bymulti-grade teaching and the lack of a literature production supervisor (Harris, 1985).

At the end of 1985 the bilingual program at Shepherdson College was fully accredited. Paul Buschenhofen, one of the head office advisers, left after working in the bilingual program for seven years. Stephen Harris also departed in December, ostensibly on leave, but he never rejoined the bilingual program.

Graham McGill, the PEO Bilingual (Southern Directorate) was responsible for a few major initiatives in 1985 including (1) a meeting of principals and teacher linguists; (2) workshops by languages; (3) a Western Desert curriculum conference, attended by Bernie Laporte from Balgo, WA and Kathy Gale (SA), which, among other recommendations, called for Pitjantjatjara to be standardised—at Ernabella in 1978 four variants had been identified— and (4) a major drive on literacy, in conjunction with TAFE and SAL. This included arranging a course on vernacular and English writing. Course participants were literacy workers who had proven literacy skills. In McGill's view (pers. comm, January 31,1986) the central issue for bilingual education was literature for upper primary. "Maths is a luxury. If the kids can hear, the rest will come. The SACE material will flow from that. We are in a vacuum—teacher linguists have not been 'hammered' enough".

An eight-week Introduction to Linguistics course had been planned, but could not be offered, because there was not enough inservice funding to make it possible. As the then PEO Bilingual, Dr Stephen Harris, noted at the time, "If we do not establish some source of in-depth training for  potential Teacher-linguists (and this course is hardly enough) we will continue to trust to luck for the future supply of these kinds of staff who have any kind of suitable training" (Bilingual newsletter, 85 (1-2), p. 3).

The bilingual programs at Yirrkala and St Therese's on Bathurst Island were granted full accrediation.


Two NT schools commenced new bilingual programs: (1) At Nyirrpi in Warlpiri and English; and (2) At Maningrida a Burarra and English program was established in response to "strong community requests." Burarra-speaking people had first asked the Department of Education for a bilingual program in 1983. Stephen Harris wrote a feasibility report in 1984 and 1985 was a year of preparation with Yasuo Nagai as teacher-linguist.)

By 1986 there were 16 bilingual programs operating in NT schools plus one in preparation. All were Model 1 programs. Total student enrolment in the schools with these programs was 2 344 compared to a total of 4 790 Aboriginal students in all NT schools. The programrequired 70 additional specialist staff and cost $1.4M to operate. Administrative day-to-day responsibility for BEPs had been regionalised, although there were two specialist staff stationed in Head Office: an EO Bilingual at Tamar House and a PEO bilingual at the National Mutual Centre inCavenagh Street. By 1986 there were more bilingual programs operating in the Southern Directorate than in the north (Graham McGill, pers. comm, January 31,1986)

The language of instruction in the bilingual program at Yirrkala was changed from Gumatj to Dhuwaya.

Some concerns about bilingual education at Milingimbi were summarised by the regional linguist, East Arnhem (Alan Walker). These included lack of teaching assistant positions, the problem of vernacular maths, and the need for the roles of staff to be clarified.

Mt Ebenezer requested the establishment of a Model 2 Bilingual Program in Pitjantjatjara.

Literature Production Centres were hit by a freeze on public service positions.

In 1986 Graham McGill proposed, in a Bilingual Education Newsletter, that Literature Production Supervisors should have a background in writing and layout work rather than in the printing trade, and should see their role as trainers of Aboriginal workers in the literacy process.

Early in 1986 the Principal at Yirrkala advised that "in view of staffing cuts in schools the whole future of bilingual education is going to have to be looked at closely" (Owen Faust, pers. comm., February 19). 

A review of part-time instructor payments was conducted. The main problem appeared to be the delay in receiving payment (File 83/1469 f45).

The Deakin-Batchelor Aboriginal Teacher Education program (D-BATE) was established. This followed the involvement of several Deakin University staff (particularly Stephen Kemmis, Helen Watson and John Henry) in projects at Batchelor and Yirrkala. For more details see Marika et al. (1992).

FEPPI released its 12-point plan.

In 1986 telephone calls from Darwin to bilingual staff in remote schools still had to be booked by ringing Outback Radio on 81 9455.


Public service pay and conditions were cut in a mini budget introduced by the CLP Government on June 11. On July 7 a mass meeting of publicservants protested these changes. 

At Papunya the Literature Production Supervisor reported that renovations "have given us a top-rate darkroom, a new air-conditioning system and useful built-in shelving, but unfortunately no windows to replace the louvres, so that dust continues to pour in to ourexpensive machinery" (Meg Mooney, "The 'new school' of Literature Production Supervisor", 1987).

A Pintupi-Luritja program recommenced at Watiyawanu (Mt Liebig).

In the Northeast Arnhem region the Yolŋu name for both-ways education was changed from ganma '(brackish water') to garma ('open space'). Galtha ('starting point') was reserved for the Yolŋu or traditional side of the curriculum. Also, the local language used in the bilingual program at Yirrkala changed from Gumatj to Dhuwaya.

The Australian language and literacy policy strongly supported the use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island languages in educational settings.

The federal Government announced the National Aboriginal languages Program (NALP), which set aside $3.5M for "the preservation, continued use and appreciation of Aboriginal and Tores Strait Island languages".

In an address to Batchelor students, Wesley Lanhupuy, MLA, stated that "The decolonisation of schools in Aboriginal communities is the challenge for Aborigines now" (Lanhupuy, 2002).

On July 9, 1987 the Director of the Curriculum and Assessment Branch, Harry Payne, wrote a memo to the Chief Executive of the Department of Education advocating an expedient approach to finalising the evaluation of those schools with bilingual programs which had not yet been accredited. His recommendation was that that "accreditation for remaining bilingual schools be based on a short report to the Accreditation Panel submitted by a team representing the Region, Feppi and Bilingual education expertise" (File 86/312). This was accepted by Feppi, but his recommendation was extended to include a representative from the school community concerned. 

Since Australia was hosting the eighth World Congress of Applied Linguistics in Sydney in 1987, a pre-congress conference was arranged from August 9 to August 11 at Batchelor College. This event, "Cross Cultural Issues in Educational Linguistics", was organised by Brian Grey and Bill Eggington, who were both at the Darwin Institute of Technology. Speakers included Wendy Baarda, Jeannie Bell, David Bendor-Samuel, Paul Black, Lee Cataldi, Neil Chadwick, Michael Christie, Brian Devlin, Esther Djayhgurrnga, Bill Eggington, Eve Fesl,  Freda Glynn, Beth Graham, Brian Gray, Erica Nangala Hampton, Robert Kaplan, Jim Martin, Patrick McConvell, Ailsa Purdpon, Jane Simpson, Joe Singh, Cathy Williamson, and Bakamana [Mandawuy] Yunupingu. Proceedings were published in Language: Maintenance, power and education in Australian Aboriginal contexts, edited by Christine Walton and Bill Eggington.


The Graduate Diploma of Linguistics was offered for the first time by the Darwin Institute of Technology in March, 1988. It included the course unit, EAL5654 Bilingual Education, which was prepared and taught by Brian Devlin.



 The Bilingual Education Consultative Committee (BECC) endorsed the school-community appraisal process, which had started in 1988, as a replacement for the accreditation scheme which had been in operation for most of that decade.


As a result of local initiative, Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa) commenced a bilingual program in Eastern Arrernte and English.

In 1989 Lajamanu School topped all government Aboriginal schools in the Territory in the Education Department's own externally-administered moderated testing programmes in English. Internal tests conducted in the school also showed a steady improvement in academic achievement over the years.

The Gupapuyŋu-English bilingual program at Milingimbi was changed to a 50:50 model.

The first Central Australian Aboriginal Languages Association Conference was held in Hamilton Downs on April 21, 1989.

On July 1, 1989, SAL was transferred from NTU to Batchelor College. At the time SAL provided certificate-level courseswithin a career structure for literacy workers.


The Department reported that there were 3472 Aboriginal primary and secondary-aged students in bilingual education programs. These programs were assisted by 36 literacy workers, 188 teacher linguists [This figure is obviously incorrect], with some 20 schools participating,, 10 literature production supervisors, four linguists and two office-based advisory staff (File 93/483 f.169).


On October 2, 1990 the Hon Tom Harris, Minister for Education, the Arts and Cultural Affairs, tabled his report in the NT Legislative Assembly:"Talking is not enough": A review of traditionally oriented people in the Northern Territory. On p.9 of that review it was noted that "The objective of this review was to obtain themaximum possible input from traditional Aboriginal people living in remote communities in the Northern Territory". On p.37 the report noted:

There is continuing concern in some communities about Bilingual Education.


• decisions on the establishment and maintenance of Bilingual education programs be made bycommunities as part of the Community Education Plan planning process and that such programs be developed in accordance with the Bilingual Education Handbook

• both the outcomes of the external accreditation process and the achievements of the students inthe primary assessment process be explained to the School Council

• teacher induction and professional development continue to stress the aims of bilingual educationand particular the first aim i.e. "to develop competency in English and in Mathematics to the level required on leaving school to function without disadvantage in the wider Australian community.

In a parliamentary debate that followed, Brian Ede said that "in the central region, the average retention periodfor teachers out bush is something like 6 months" (Hansard, 1990). He added, "An Aboriginalisation program is crucial. Non-Aboriginal teachersshould work alongside Aboriginal teachers to increase retention rates" (Hansard, 1990).

From 2000–2002 an outcomes-based Northern Territory Curriculum Framework (NTCF) was developed by many staff in the NT Department of Education. "It included an Indigenous Language and Culture (ILC) component with separate sections for Culture Content and Language Revitalisation" (Carr, Wilkinson, &  Stansell, 2017, p.157).


Marshall Perron, the Chief Minister, accepted recommendations from the Expenditure Review Committee that 1200 public sector positions should disappear and seven schools be closed.

A new policy was released by the Commonwealth Government: Australia's language: The Australian language and literacy policy (DEETYA, 1991).

Harry Payne, Assistant Secretary, Curriculum and Assessment reported to the Minister that there were 21 schools with bilingual programs: 17 Government, one Independent (Yipirinya) and three Catholic (File 93/483 f. 214). Programs operated in English and 17 vernacularlanguages: Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara, Yankunytjatjara, Kriol, Central Arrernte, Western Arrernte, Eastern Arrernte, Burrara, Ndjebbana, Gumatj, Dhuwaya and dialects, Tiwi, Luritja, Pintupi, Murrinhpatha, Maung "plus a number of programs operating informally on a number of outstations or homelands, for example in the Kuningku, Gurrogoni and Kunbarlang language groups near Maningrida" (File 93/483 f. 215).

It was reported in a Commonwealth policy paper that "bilingual programs provide a sound basis for successfulEnglish language and literacy development for all children of non-English speaking background.....They are particularly effective where the children are not yet literate in their first language. Education systems should consider bilingual programs as an option to facilitate both English literacy development and developmment of another language, particularly the child's first language' (DEETYA, 1991).

In its briefing to the Public Accounts Committee the Department of Education reported that "when the restricteddata through the 1994/5 MAP is analysed, it demonstrates that there is no conclusive evidence showing significantly poorer outcomes for students inbilingual schools nor does it show significantly improved outcomes when compared to the average for no-Bilingual schools" (p.1). They added that 68 per cent of Aboriginal teacher graduates in the NT were working or had worked in schools with bilingual education programs.

By the late 1990s there was a decline in the number of trained Indigenous teachers in schools generally, and in thenumber of teachers proficient in their traditional languages. A major reason for this was a reduction in training opportunities at the Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE), the main institution training Indigenous teachers.

In March 1991 the East Arnhem Regional Bilingual Education Conference was held at Milingimbi School from March 4th–7th. It involved staff from Maningrida, Milingimbi, Shepherdson and Yirrkala.

As a result of Rose Guwanga's Batchelor Studies, a dialect program was commenced at Shepherdson College, in addition to the official Bilingual program in Djambarrpuyŋu and English.

Papunya Literature Production Centre lost three positions (Finnane, Feb 17, 2009). The program had been closed in 2006 after consultation with community members, which found that 28 per cent were in favour of a bilingual program, 28 per cent wanted a strong English program with somePintupi-Luritja and 44 per cent wanted an English-only program (Pintupi-Luritja Workshop report Term 3, 2010). 


A house of Representatives Standing Committee released A matter of survival, its report of the Inquiry into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language maintenance.Thisreport emphasised the value of bilingual education. For example, section 6.52 stated that "The Committee believes that it is totally inappropriate that any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child today begins school in a language other than their own" (p. 89).

Rose Guywanga was appointed Principal at Shepherdson College, becoming the first Indigenous principal in the NorthernTerritory.

The bilingual program at Barunga ceased to operate (Bubb, 1993).


By 1993 there were 20 schools with accredited bilingual programs using 34 languages. Of those schools 16 were government, three Catholic and one Independent. A total of 56 specialist support staff were employed to service these programs, including 28 Aboriginal staff, comprising two teacher-linguists and 26 literacy workers (Annual reports from specialist staff, 1993).

At an inservice in Galiwin'ku in 1993 teachers said that "In the past bilingual programs operated with only one local language, but this is no longer a requirement. Communities to negotiate what they want. Have a choice. May be a good idea to use as many languages as possible. Hard on the teachers but better in the longrun for the community". (Wilkinson & Bubb, 1993).

Nalwarri commenced consultations with the elders regarding the Galtha Rom workshops for the Homeland Centre schools.

During 1993 five schools completed the Bilingual Schools Appraisal and Accreditation process: Areyonga; Murrupurtiyanuwu Catholic School, Nguiu; Nyirrpi; OLSH School, Wadeye; Shepherdson College. Galiwin'ku.

Carr, Wilkinson & Stansell (2017, p.151)) note that "in 1993, the Numbulwar Linguists and members of the School Council sought to have the school’s bilingual status reinstated to access ongoing systemic support from the Department. These early moves were supported by the principals of the school at the time (Richard Jeeves and Jean Guernier). Consultations with Departmental representatives and community members were held in June 1993".


Numbulwar School's bilingual status was officially recognised once again (Carr, Wilkinson, &  Stansell, 2017, p. 151). 

The Australian Senate published a report, A matter of survival, which presented the findings of an inquiry that had been undertaken "because of widespread concern over language loss amongstAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people". Those participating in the inquiry included Mr Garrie Gibson, MP; the Health Minister, Mr Les Scott, MP (Chair); Warren Snowdon, the member for the NT; and Dr Michael Wooldridge, MP.

On January 20 Graham Richardson, Federal Health Minister, described living conditions in Aboriginal communities as as worse than a third world country ravaged by war. On August 18 the new $120M parliament house was opened in Darwin.


According to a timeline prepared by the EAL unit, "approximately 47% of all students in remote schools were enrolled in schools operating a formal bilingual program. There were 20 schools with accredited bilingual programs supporting 34 languages and dialects".

With respect to the program at Numbulwar Carr,  Wilkinson &  Stansell (2017) report that "From 1993 to 1995, Wubuy lessons for primary students increased from once a week to four times a week (Monday–Thursday)". Friday' lesson was set aside for whole-school instruction in wungubal ‘traditional dancing’. "The increase to daily lessons was a significant advance on the few lessons per term in the early 1990s. However, lesson times ran from just 30–40 min and concerns remained about this being long enough".


The Liberal Party, led by John Howard, won office with a 45-seat majority. It pursued policies of economic liberalism, cut funding for Aboriginal programs, limited Aboriginal land rights and discontinued the process of reconciliation which Bob Hawke had initiated in 1991.

Pauline Hanson claimed that Aboriginal people were receiving far too much Government funding.


The Asian financial crisis began.

The ACER completed a national survey: Mapping literacy achievement, but the Minister for Education, Dr Kemp, responded with his own overview: Literacy standards in Australia. Jo Lo Bianco and Peter Freebody were commissioned by the Commonwealth to provide policy advice, but their report, Australian literacies: Informing national policy on literacy education, was subsequently ignored by government. A National literacy and numeracy plan was released by Commonwealth, State and Territory Education Ministers. A budget of $154M was provided to implement it.

The Remote Learning Partnership Project began in 2006. By 2007 local school and community partnership agreements had been negotiated with the NT Department of Education and signed by Gunbalanya, Milingimbi, Ngukurr,  Ramingining and Yirrkala (Unaipon, 2009, p.97)


The Commonwealth Government released a new policy, Literacy for all: The challenge for Australian schools, which subsumed ESL funding under the literacy umbrella.


The Treasurer, Mike Reed, advised Parliament on December 1, 1998 that the Northern Territory public sector would be reduced by approximately 700 existing positions, some of which were senior positions, including Chief Executive Officers.

In the second half of 1998 the NT Department of Education set up an Education Review Task Group, chaired by Wal Czernezkyj, which conducted limited consultations in the NT. Following that sketchy review, the Country Liberal Party decided to "...progressively withdraw the Bilingual Education program, allowing schools to share in the savings and better resource the English language programs." On December 1 the CLPTreasurer (Mike Reid) and Minister for Education (Peter Adamson) announced in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly that bilingual education programs would be phased out in favour of the "further development of ESL programs" (Hansard 1998). Three reasons for this decision were given:

  • Firstly, Aboriginal people were overwhelmingly concerned about the operation of the bilingual program.
  • Secondly, it was claimed that students in bilingual programs were not performing as well as their peers.
  • The third reason for the decision was that the government wanted to trim the education budget.


The government's decision to phase out bilingual education progressively in the NT resulted in communities, teachers,linguists and educators rallying in defence of bilingual education. In December 1988 around 300 people joined a protest rally in Alice Springs where "Speakers said they were outraged by the decision, which was made without consulting Aboriginal communities" (Land Rights News, March 1999).

Information about they Government's plan was made available online. David Nathan provided online updates at www.dnathan.com/VL/alert.htm, drawing on information provided by Peter Austin, Ysola Best, Bob Boughton, Jane Durie, Marilyn Macgregor, Jeff Siegel, Bruce Sommer, and Ann Stewart. Under the authority of Rosalind Djuwandayngu, the Principal, a website documenting the changes was set up at Milingimbi School.

A petition with over 3 000 signatures, presented to Parliament, claimed that the progressive withdrawal of bilingualprograms in Northern Territory schools would mean that Aboriginal languages, both written and spoken, would have no official place in NT schools.

Many letters were sent to the Government by people around the country and overseas from organisations as diverse as Edinburgh University's Gaelic society, The Australian Linguistic Society, and the Max Planck Institute in Holland.

On December 18, 1998 the following letter was sent to the Minister for Education, the Hon. Peter Adamson:

Dear Minister

I refer to the recent decisions which have been announced by your office, commencing with the press statements which were released on 1 December 1998.

It would be appreciated if you could provide me with some answers to the followingquestions.

[1] Were any of the recommendations of the Education Review Task Group referred to the EducationAdvisory Council, which has the statutory responsibility to provide you with advice on all matters relating to education?

I am the Administrator's appointee on that Council and, as far as I am aware, the EAC was not given an opportunity to comment on these matters. In fact the last meeting of the EAC scheduled in 1998 was cancelled and a social dinner at a hotel restaurant was held instead. The ostensible reason for this change of plans was "There's too much going on at the moment. People are too preoccupied with the Review". It seems ironic to me that, at the very time one would have expected the EAC to be debating these issues, it was deliberately kept ignorant of them. The result of this is that you have not been given the range of advice to which you are entitled.

[2] What is the rationale to phasing out bilingual education programs?

[3] Was the decision to phase out bilingual education programs based on any current research?

[4 ]Is it the case that the mean MAP scores attained by students in NT schools with formally recognised bilingual programs have been, in at least some cases, higher than those achieved by students in comparable schools which do not have bilingualprograms?

[5] Is there any recent NT-based research to suggest that changing the the language of instruction is likely to be a more effective way to achieve better educational outcomes, than, say, improving attendance rates, alleviating poverty or tackling problems relating to health and nutrition?

[6] Has any Aboriginal parent been fined under the Act during the last 25 years for failing to send a school-aged child to school?

[7] Would you happen to know why the Faculty of Education at Northern Territory University has not been officially advised about the Education Review either by your office or by the Department of Education? While I have been kept well informed about developments, all of the communications I have received have been informal, from colleagues in a number of professional networks here in the Territory, interstateand overseas.

I will conclude by expressing disappointment that you did not receive better quality advice with respect to the advisability or otherwise of maintaining bilingual education programs. Had you been better informed, we would not be facing the situation we are in now where, after decades in which Ministers Stone and Finch and Harris at various times could claim that the NT was leading Australia with respect to its initiatives in indigenous education, you now face angry protests from a large number of Aboriginal communities, professional organisations, academics and human rights groups. This is a regrettable consequence of the changes that have been announced. I do hope the situation can be reversed, through negotiation and sensible adjustments to policy.

I look forward to receiving your response to my questions and would welcome an opportunity todiscuss any of these matters with you.

I will be distributing copies of this letter to the Executive Officer of the EAC, theVice-Chancellor of the Northern Territory University, the Secretary of the NT Department of Education, and the PEO Bilingual Education/Aboriginal languages.I will ensure that your answers are distributed to these same people when you have had an opportunity to respond.

Yours sincerely


Dr Brian Devlin

Associate Professor and Dean

Faculty of Education


Member, Education Advisory Council"


The Northern Territory Department of Education launched Schools our focus: Shaping Territory education. Information packs sent out widely at that time included "Fact Sheet 10: Phase out the bilingual program":


Progressively withdraw the Bilingual Education Program, allowing the schools to share in thesavings and better resource English language programs.

The Bilingual program dates back to the days of Commonwealth responsibility for education in theNorthern Territory but has continued with funding exclusively provided by the NT Government. Of the 91 schools in remote Aboriginal communities, 20 schools in the Territory (including 4 non-government schools) have additional resources for bilingual education programs.

There is no evidence to show that children in these schools are performing better in Englishliteracy than children in other schools, which do not have extra resources for bilingual education. In fact, on average, children in schools with funded bilingual programs are performing slightly worse in English literacy and in numeracy.

The Government has decided to examine how these resources can be redirected more equitably toprovide for improvements in literacy.

Actions to date

The Government has made it clear that the positions of Indigenous teachers and non-Indigenous support staff employed with bilingual funds are protected. These teachers will be able to continue teaching in the schools where they are presently employed.

Future actions

A detailed consultation will take place, over the next six months, with all schools and communities affected by this decision, to explore how it is to be implemented most constructively, so that resources are best allocated for improvements inliteracy.

On February 17, 1999 Kieran Finnane reported in The Alice Springs News that "Dennis Nelson addressed the suggestion voiced by the Minister and others that teaching children their Aboriginal languages is the province of the parents, at home: "A long time before Captain Cook came, the tribes spoke our languages without interference. "Now there is too much TV, videos, CDs. That's why we need the written language. It's going to be really hard in the future for kids to speak our language unless it is in the written form".

On March 23, 1999 the Minister for School Education, Peter Adamson, wrote to the Yuendumu Branch of the Australian Teachers Union NT, thanking them for their "letter expressing concern about the Northern Territory Government's decision to phase out bilingual education". He advised that "The phasing out of bilingual education in government schools in remote Aboriginal communities will enable those additional resources now devoted to bilingual education to be redirected more equitably to provide for improvements in English literacy and in numeracy. Non-government school systems will continue to allocate their program funding in accordance with their own priorities. Of the 87 government schools in remote communities, 16 are affected by the decision. There is no evidence to show that children in these schools are performing better in English literacy than children in other schools which do not have the additional resources. In fact, on average, children in schools with funded bilingual education are performing slightly worse in English literacy and numeracy". No evidence to support this claim was provided.

On March 10, 1999 the Koori Mail reported that the Board of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission had "called on the new Chief Minister Dennis Burke to stop Northern Territory Government moves to phase out bilingual education". The Board, condemned the decision of the Stone administration" and "the absence of any meaningful consultation with the affected schools and communities".

Senator Margaret Reynolds reported on March 10, 1999 [Check this] that: "When the Northern Territory government announced that bilingual education would no longer be pursued in the Territory, there was not a word in opposition to this from a government member. Anyone who knows anything about education should know that the benefits of bilingual education are enormous for Aboriginal children in terms of self respect and their capacity to learn at an early stage when they are still very reliant on their mother tongue. There was not a word from the education minister, there was not a word from the Aboriginal affairs minister and there was not a word from the Prime Minister".

In a letter headed "Death of a Working Aboriginal Reform", written by Stephen Harris and Merridy Malin to the Editor of The Australian on March 17, 1999 , it was pointed out that: "In November 1998 the NT Government made a misguided and tragic decision, after 25 years of operation, to "progressively withdraw the [Aboriginal] bilingual education program allowing schools to share in the savings and better resource English language programs". Until this policy shift, about half the children enrolled in schools in isolated Aboriginal communities in the NT attended a bilingual school where for about half their time during primary school they were taught in their Aboriginal language andfor about half their time they were taught in English.

In his 1999 book former Minister for Education in the Whitlam era, the Hon. Kim E. Beazley Sr, noted that "To deny a people an education in their own language where that is possible is to treat them as a conquered people and to deny them respect".

In 1999 members of the Indigenous Education Council signed a "Charter on Bilingual Language", which affirmed that "The Indigenous people of the Northern Territory have the right to choose bilingual education as the only acceptable defined educational process of maintaining cultural well being". Signatories included Lana Quoll, Jane Harrington, Isaac Brown, Beverley Angeles, Christine Birkinbirkin, Rae Mathews, Joyce Taylor, Richard Doolan, Pat Cummins, Annette Laing and Warren Williams.

In April 1, 1999 Carmel O'Shannessy, on behalf of Lajamanu CEC School Council, invited other school councils to join Lajamanu in making a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, which would be asked to investigate whether the NT had breached the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Following pressure from communities and the bilingual lobby, the NT government decided to commission a review which would determine the directions for Aborginal education over the next five years. The former Labor Senator for the NT, Bob Collins, was asked to chair it. Dr Tess Lea was appointed Project Manager. Tina Lambert assisted as Project Officer. Its terms of reference were to provide

  • an independent assessment of the key issues affecting educational outcomes for Aboriginal children, and
  • opportunity for people inside and outside the Department to contribute to the development of strategic directions for Aboriginal education.

The community consultation phase began in May 1999. In preparing their report, Learning Lessons, the authors noted that they had "conducted in-depth case studies of forty-fourschools across the Northern Territory...Of these forty-four case studies, thirteen were bilingual schools".

The review was principally interested in parental concerns and issues to do with educational effectiveness. Keyquestions guiding the review were: What do Indigenous parents, children and communities want from schools? What is going well? What is not going so well? What are the strategies for the future?

One remote area school submitted its Bilingual Appraisal Report to the reviewers, explaining in a covering letter: "This is a strong document, it is our word. But now we think that no-one in the Education Department has read our reports because now you are payingpeople to come and ask us what we want again. Every year you ask us and every year we tell you but you don't listen to what we say. Some community memberssay that you will keep asking until we tell you that we want to be Balanda, then you'll stop asking. We are not Balanda, our skin will always beblack" (p. 37).

The Collins review noted strong community support for bilingual education and gave qualified support to continuing it—albeit with the name changed to 'two-way' learning.

The policy decision reached was that 'two-way' learning was permissive, in which "local languages are used primarily as a means of teaching English literacy. A key difference is we will be tracking student attendance and their progress much more rigorously"(Lugg, 2004).

At the same time as the Collins-Lea review was being undertaken, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) was also conducting its Inquiry into rural and remote education. Brian Devlin was appointed Co-commissioner for that inquiry in the NT. Public hearings in the NT were scheduled in May.

By the late 1990s the program Advancing Indigenous Literacy through Intervention for Hearing Disabilities had begun to operate in six schools in conjunction with the Menzies School of Health Research.

A report on the first stage of the "Bush Talks" program was released by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.ATSIC chairman Gatjil Djerrkura, said that this "New evidence on the depth of disadvantage faced by indigenous communities in rural and remote areas provides a powerful answer to those who claim indigenous communities do not deserve the services provided to them".


The Commonwealth Government published its National Indigenous English literacy and numeracy strategy 2000–2004.


The NT Department of Education released a paper called Strategic directions: Maintaining momentum.

Approval to conduct a Two-Way Learning Program at Watiyawanu School was granted (Memorandum from the Chief Executive of DEET to the General Manager Schools, Central Australia (file no. DOCASP/2003/0501).


The report State of Indigenous Languages in Australia - 2001 expressed the view that:


The end of bilingual education in the Northern Territory represents a serious setback for Indigenouslanguages... Not only have some language programs and positions related to indigenous language programs been lost but, the status of Indigenous languageshas been downgraded significantly within the education system, even though the Northern Territory Education Department argues that some programs may proceedat individual schools within a 'Two Ways' framework (McConvell, 2001). 

The report refers to the 'marginal' status of the NT's 'Two Way Learning Program'. While the practice of schools did not change with the program name change, it is worth noting that from 1998 to 2000 the number of government schools offering a bilingual educationprogram declined from 16 to 12 schools.


Citing anecdotal evidence, the Report on Future Directions for Secondary Education in the Northern Territory, Ramsey (2003) criticised the achievements of bilingual, or two-way schooling and recommended that it be replaced by " a language ecology approach" and language nests.


Ramsey (2003) explained that: 

The two way model attempts to explicitly value Indigenous languages and traditions as equal inthe learning environment and is thus staffed and resourced differently from other schools. It is also premised on instilling a literate orientation tolearning through Indigenous language first followed by English and to this end has been dependent on Indigenous adults or dedicated long term teachers or teacherlinguists, with vernacular literacy skills and access to avenues for developing literacy resources. Its realisation as an effective pedagogical approach alsoarguably depends on both vernacular and English literacy practices becoming a way of being within the community, so that immersion in and use of these practices can reinforce and support educational activities. As one teacher stated What do they need to read and write their language for, when for many it isn't even their language and there isn't anywhere to use those skills?

The evidence before the review team would suggest that there are few examples of vernacular orEnglish literacy practices integrated within community life and two-way schools are currently struggling with their endeavour as much as other schools. Thismay not have been the case in the past, but current reality appears quite stark. In a number of schools with two way learning both Indigenous andnon-Indigenous teachers were concerned about their students' abilities to read and write in English. A non-Indigenous teacher commented All teaching is done in the local language until Year 4. Sometimes it's not even the kids' first language. It's impossible to get the students up to benchmark by Year 7 andprepare them sufficiently for secondary education. This is not to question the value of languages but to suggest that all schools in remote areas, not just those designated two-way, and many in urban areas, operate in multi-lingual contexts and all teachers must have the capacity and capability to negotiate these. There is a need to recognise the diversity and dynamics of local language ecologies and practices and use these as the stepping-stone for productive pedagogical practice. In essence, a language ecology approach would enable a focus for the professional development of all staff that is premisedon the recognition of the existing language skills of students and the social practices of their environments. It would also allow an explicitness in teaching and learning practices based on rigorous recognition of what areand will be the difficulties experienced by students, as well as the means to utilise existing social practices of language use and expand on these. Theseapproaches to English language and literacy learning are integral to the pedagogical transformations recommended in this review. We therefore suggest that there are a number of critical issues for educational endeavours operating in multi-lingual contexts ....

Many family and community members as well as teachers, spoke of the importance of two- way approaches to learning and the importance of these to achieving successful mainstream focus on the relationships in teaching and learningbetween young Indigenous people and their teachers develop locale specific linguistic and intercultural understandings of the difficulties faced by youngIndigenous people in learning Standard Australian English match language programs and literacy tasks to the contemporary situations of young people align the goals of education towards the repeatedly expressed goals of community members to achieve self determining post colonial regions with socialand economic futures build the future capacity of Indigenous people to negotiate effectively at the interface of the range of traditions and ways of life. 173

52. Outcomes for young people.

Some spoke of how young people are forgetting their culture or don't feel connected because ofthe explosion of violence and dysfunction. Most spoke convincingly of the need for young people to see themselves as the next school teacher or principal andthe critical importance of post school pathways on the community. Most schools in remote areas have over time assumed a role as the locus for cultural maintenance and transmission. In two-way schools this locus was formalised over time as vernacular and other resources were developed, utilised and housed inthe literacy production centres attached to these schools. There is no doubt of the importance of maintaining Indigenous languages and cultures and until recently there has been a studied indifference and withholding or whittling away of support for their perpetuation by education systems. There is a need for renewed resourcing and state of the art mechanisms to enable language, maintenance of traditions and renewal activities, but the review team believes strongly these need to be established as activities distinct from the core responsibilities of schools. One's language and traditions are intrinsically important to identity and to establish self- esteem.

As the experience of the Indigenous art, tourism and music industries would attest, they alsopresent unique avenues for viable economic activity and social cohesiveness. In light of the emerging desert and tropical knowledge initiatives, the fluctuatingbut ever present demand for authentic tourism experiences, the emerging interest in biodiversity for pharmaceuticals and "tucker" and land for miningand development, Indigenous knowledge has currency not only for its intrinsic value but also for the social and economic opportunities it can generate.

Innovative ways to support the holding, renewal and protection of this knowledge and practice mustbe supported. A submission from the Diwurruwurru-jar Aboriginal Corporation pointed out We have over half of our Indigenous interpreters move on tomainstream employment after training in the use of Indigenous languages in the workplace. Knowledge of languages has been invaluable in increasingunderstanding of the legal and medical fields. Interpreting is providing ongoing and expanding opportunities for employment. To this end the review teamproposes that facilities and mechanisms should be identified to enable the establishment of Language Nests at the community level. These would be smallcentres, linked to a larger regional Knowledge Centre, that are sites for nurturing language and tradition, are places where these are studied, sung,discussed, viewed, painted, video edited, archived. They can happen on Saturdays or daily and add value to the Indigenous studies, music orextra-curricula activities. The links between these Nests and the school should be brokered initially by Indigenous education staff. There may also be benefit in investigating and building on the Ara Irititja project in South Australia and the initiatives being undertaken through the Cape York Partnerships inrelation to 53. 54. 55.

p. 174

56. digital holdings of Indigenous knowledge and enabling contemporary avenues for culturaltransmission. The Indigenous Knowledge Centre Initiative of the Department of Community Development, Sport and Cultural Affairs could be linked to thesmaller Language Nests and become the places for the holding, renewal and creation of traditional practices that could be accessed and utilised byeducation and other services. With the current rollout of ICTs across the Territory, and Commonwealth initiatives through the Telecommunications Action Plan for Remote Indigenous Communities' TAPRIC (DCITA) that include the establishment of Community Access Centres, the digital medium presents greatopportunity for education, enterprise and cultural maintenance.

Literacy and numeracy have been discussed in detail in Chapter 3. While the importance of literacyand numeracy manifests itself nowhere more starkly in the Territory than in the contexts of Indigenous education, it is by no means the only context whereissues regarding their teaching and learning arise. We believe an "all stops out" approach to raising the skills levels of young Indigenous people in thesepractices should be embraced. Separate or special measures for Indigenous young people have not been supported by this review. Instead we recommend thatteaching and learning strategies currently reporting outstanding esults, such as the Accelerated Literacy program, be supported.

This report (Ramsey 2003) challenged the educational reasons for supporting two-way programs by reporting concerns by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people about children's abilities to read and write in SAE, and doubts about t he value of learning to read and write intraditional languages.

The need for strong ESL support for the students was discussed. The report writers expressed respect for the identity reasons for supporting languages, but questioned whether schools should play a role in helping Aboriginal people maintain their languages.

Approval to conduct a Two-Way Learning Program at Watiyawanu School was withdrawn (Memorandum from the Chief Executive of DEET to the General Manager Schools, Central Australia, file no. DOCASP/2003/0501)


Two NT Government schools lost accreditation to provide Two-Way programs: Nyirrpi and Watiyawanu. These were two small schools that were serviced by teacher-linguists from Yuendumu CEC and Papunya School, respectively. Nyirrpi and Watiyawanu had been unable to complete the requirements of the Two Way Learning review processes, and lacked the staff and resources to continue.


In 2004 there were 10 government schools and one independent school offering Two Way Learning programs, in addition to the three Catholic schools who offered Bilingual Education programs.

Consultations in 2004 found that the majority of Two Way Learning schools attempted to use the "step" approach. Some schools reported that they follow a 50/50 model with equal hours of instruction and literacy in both languages from the beginning years of schooling.

The NT schools with Two Way Learning/Bilingual programs in 2004 were:

Government Schools:

Areyonga School; Lajamanu CEC; Maningrida CEC; Milingimbi CEC; Numbulwar CEC; Papunya School;Shepherdson College; Galiwin'ku; Willowra CEC; Yirrkala CEC; Yuendumu CEC.

Catholic Schools:

Murrupurtiyaunwu; Nguiu; Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Wadeye; Ltyentye Apurte CEC; Santa Theresa.

Independent Schools:

Yipirinya School, Alice Springs.

The total cost of the Two Way Learning Program in 2004 (not including bilingual programs in non-government schools) was $3.14 million. This included all staffing and operational funds to schools and DEET system support costs, and school-based literature production centres producing Indigenous language classroom materials that could not be sourced commercially.

The Indigenous Languages and Culture in NT Schools 2004-05 report (edited by Margaret Banks) recommended two models of bilingual education: the 'staircase' model and the dual early literacy model (or the '50/50' model). Both models include the teaching of oracy and literacy in English and the Indigenous language.


On August 24 Syd Stirling, Minister for Employment, Education and Training, announced in NT parliament that bilingual education was back on the government's agenda, because it was recognised to be "an important teaching methodology". He explained that the NT Government would be 'revitalising bi-lingual education', as well as improving homelands education, "establishing clear employment and training pathways and taking other measures in 15 Community Education Centres, which were mainly based in the Territory's larger remote communities; namely, Alekerange, Angurugu, Borroloola, Galiwinku, Gapuwiyak, Gunbalunya, Kalkaringi, Lajamanu, Maningrida, Milingimbi, Ramingining, Ngkurr, Numbulwar, Yirrkala and Yuendumu".



The NT Indigenous Education Strategic Plan 2006-2009 defined Bilingual education as "a formal model of dual language use where students' first language is used as a language for learning across the curriculum, while at the same time they are learning to use English as a second language for learning across the curriculum". This plan offered new assurances for the next five-year period; in particular: "There are 11 programs in ten Territory Government schools that use a bilingual model. The bilingual programs are effective overseas and give an indication of positive results in the Territory. DEET will strengthen the bilingual program and improve its effectiveness and sustainability to deliver outcomes".



On June 21 the Australian Government announced the Northern Territory Emergency Response ('the intervention')—a "national emergency response to protect Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory" from sexual abuse and family violence. It was roundly condemned by Tom Calma and defended by Noel Pearson.


On September 15, 2007, the ABC reported that Prime Minister John Howard "defended Australia's refusal to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, saying the bill legitimised customary law". Justifying his position he explained that "it is wrong to support something that argues the case of separate development inside one country. The Indigenous people of Australia have a special place in our community, but we also believe their future lies in being part of the mainstream of this country".


The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) was established. Under its authority the National AssessmentProgram - Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) commenced in Australian schools. All students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 began to be assessed using national tests in Reading, Writing, Language Conventions (Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation) and Numeracy. These test results were used quite politically by the NT Government in October 2008. 


By the beginning of 2008 two-way learning programs had been recategorised either as Language Maintenance or Language Revitalisation programs. These terms were defined as follows:

Language Maintenance programs aim to extend and develop learners' first language skills in listeningand speaking, reading and writing. Students learn initial literacy through their first language and use literacy as a tool for their first language study throughout their schooling. The knowledge and skills that students learn in their first language assists in their learning of, in and through English.

Language Revitalisation is the approach taken when the language is still spoken by oneor more generations of older speakers. Children do not speak the language, but are likely to have good passive knowledge. Language Revitalisation programs aim to extend the use and knowledge of the language into younger generations of speakers.

The schools that offered either a Language Maintenance (LM) bilingual program or a Language Revitalisation (LR) bilingual program at the beginning of 2008 are listed in the table below:



Program Type

Areyonga School

Pitjantjatjara, English


Lajamanu School

Warlpiri, English


Maningrida CEC

Burarra, Ndjébbana, English


Milingimbi CEC

Yolngu Matha, English


Shepherdson College, Galiwin’ku

Yolngu Matha, English


Willowra School

Warlpiri, English


Yirrkala CEC

Yolngu Matha, English


Yuendumu CEC

Warlpiri, English



Wubuy (Nunggubuyu)


These programs were supported by the following staff:

School-based positions:

  • 11 Executive Teachers Level 2 Two-Way Learning (10 school-based and one regionally based)
  • 18 school-based Literacy Workers at Administration Officer Level 3
  • Four Literature Production Supervisors (in Literacy Resource Development Units) at Administration Officer Level 5
  • Additional Assistant Teacher positions

Office based positions:

  • Three Regional Language Resource Officers at Professional Level 3 (Darwin/West Arnhem Land, East Arnhem Land, Central Australia)
  • One Manager Two Way Learning Program (Administrative Officer Level 8)

The first set of national skills test results (NAPLAN) were released in September 2008. The Government's response wasforthright. The NT Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, deplored the results for the NT, explaining that 'the worst cases came from remote schools' (IJBS).

On October 14, the month after national literacy and numeracy test results had been released , Minister Marion Scrymgour mandated English as the language of instruction in all Northern Territory schools during the first four hours of each school day (Memorandum 2008/2527) DET's draft Compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day policy exempted some preschoolers from the four hours of English requirement (November 3). A Data on bilingual schools document was tabled in parliament (November 26) to justify the Government's abrupt policy change (Scrymgour, 2008). The reason for this policy shift was said to be the poor comparative performance of remote NT students on the national skills tests in 2008, particularly the scores obtained by students in schools with bilingual programs.

According to Freeman, Bell, Andrews & Gallagher  (2017, p. 225) 

Areyonga’s Indigenous principal reported that the community were "distraught" and
deeply hurt by the news that the Minister of Education proposed to dismantle the
school’s bilingual education program (SMH 2008). “The community gathered at
the school to express their anger that such a significant decision is being made
without anyone speaking to them first” (de Silva 2008, p. 1). The Anangu assistant
teachers and qualified Anangu teachers at the school were upset to learn they will be
required to speak only in English for the first 4 hours of school and could not see
how this would benefit the students.


The Compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day policy was introduced (NT DET, 2008c). No exemptions were allowed.


A complaint was lodged with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) by Sarah Gallagher at Areyonga (Freeman, Bell, Andrews & Gallagher, 2017).

On May 22 DET advised a Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote Communities that 'The Minister's direction does not mean that the first four hours of each school day are to be spent solely on teaching the subject English. Rather, it means that teachingand learning programs are to be conducted in English for the first four hours of each school day, and may encompass instruction in a range of learning areas, e.g. science, mathematics, health education as well as English. The direction does not preclude the use of a student's first language to scaffold learning in English" (DET, 2009). DET went on to say that "Schools can timetable the teaching and learning of Indigenous languages and culture during afternoon sessions, and are encouraged to do so'.

The Ramsey report was published in July 2009.

An AIATSIS Research Symposium on Bilingual Education was held at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on26 June 2009. In an an address entitled "They are our children, this is our community", Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, set out to show that "to demonstrate the links between strength in culture and resilience in children". Calma observed that "in trying to dismantle Bilingual education  the NT Government has done more than vandalise a program that was teaching children to be culturally literate in two languages and two cultures. It has torn at the fabric of the relationships between Aboriginal people and governments... again... The NT Government has damaged the trust and enthusiasm with which Aboriginal people have offered our languages and culture into school classrooms" (Calma, 2009).

Other presenters at the AIATSIS Research Symposium in 2009 included

  • Dr Jane Simpson (University of Sydney), Dr Patrick McConvell (ANU) and Dr Josephine Caffery (ACU),
  • Leonard Freedman, Peggy Gallagher and Daphne Puntjina (Areyonga School)
  • Rarriwuy Marika, Marrkiyawuy Ganambar-Stubbs (Yirrkala CEC), and graduates from the Yirrkala School Two-Way program
  • Janet (Maxine) Nungarrayi Spencer, Connie Nungarrayi Walit and Wendy Baarda (Yuendumu community)
  • Dr Brian Devlin (CDU)
  • Kathy McMahon (CDU) and Cathy McGinness (St John's College), and Professor Joseph Lo Bianco (University of Melbourne)

The Applied Linguistics course, which had included EAL564 Bilingual Education, was discontinued at Charles Darwin University.

A Four Corners program on NT bilingual education was broadcast on September 14, 2009 (http://goo.gl/nrS7km).


On March 24 Emma Purdue and Melanie Schleiger, two lawyers at Landers & Rogers, acted on behalf of Sarah Gallagher at Areyonga. "In a comprehensive letter to an investigation/conciliation officer" at the Department of Education they explained “the reasons why the Compulsory Teaching in English for the First Four Hours of Each School Day Policy is substantially discriminatory, and therefore unlawful.” Their letter invoked sub-Sections 9(1) and 9(1A) of the Commonwealth’s Racial Discrimination Act.


The Compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day policy was replaced on December 27 by a new policy: Literacy for Both Worlds, which reintroduced some options for schools, including vernacular-Englishbilingual-biliteracy programs to the end of Year 2.


The replacement policy (Literacy for Both Worlds) was withdrawn on January 13. The Compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of each school day policy was reinstated, unchanged, on January 14. The NT Education and Training Minister, Chris Burns, subsequently released a draft Literacy Framework for Students learning English as an Additional Language on August 31.


In a publication entitled Face the facts the Human Rights Commision reported that: "In 2009, the Australian Governmentlaunched Indigenous Languages – A National Approach 2009 which endeavours to preserve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' languages by increasing information about these languages in Australian life and supporting language programs in schools". They added: "There are concerns that thisNational Approach might not be enough to stop the decline in usage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, as governments are not obligedto comply with or implement it. This is highlighted in the Northern Territory where current education policy prevents schools from following bilingual education models by enforcing compulsory teaching in English for the first four hours of schooling each day" (http://goo.gl/DTTWRu).


On September 17, 2012 a report was released by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. It made 30 recommendations, including this one: "Indigenous language education should be introduced to all schools with Aboriginal students, and indigenous languages included as an official Closing the Gap measure" (Karvelas, 2012).


The draft version of the Wilson review states that it "does not support continued efforts to use biliteracy approaches, or toteach the content of the curriculum through first languages other than English". The final report, however, takes a different tack: "Firstlanguage and culture should be part of a child's education where qualified teachers are available and communities agree" (p.11).



The federal Minister for Education advised that he had "introduced explicit and direct instruction teaching approaches under our Flexible Literacy in Remote Primary Schools programme to address poor literacy results in remote primary schools" (Pyne, 2015).


Katherine McMahon was appointed to the Principal Co-ordinator position when it was was reinstated in April 2015.


As at May 1, 2017 the NT Department of Education had not withdrawn targeted funding from the nine remaining "bilingual" schools and it has continued to pay for two linguists based at Ludmilla Languages Centre.

The current minister's understandings about bilingual education may be gleaned by going to yingiya.net

A history of bilingual education in the NT was publshed by Springer. Using never-before published photographs and personal accounts to supplement its analysis, this book (Dvvlin, Disbray & Devlin, 2017) traced the history of the bilingual education program in the Northern Territory of Australia. 



Ailsa Purdon succeeded Katherine McMahon as Principal Co-ordinator.



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