Power Of Story-telling In Top End

Victoria University

For the last 28 years, groups of tertiary students, primarily from Victoria University (VU) have worked together, creating story books with Indigenous students and teachers as part of the SWiRL program.

The Story Writing in Remote Locations (SWiRL) program began in 1996 and was developed by former VU education lecturer Lawry Mahon. The unique initiative provides preservice teachers with a culturally immersive experience in remote and rural Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory (NT).

The current group of eight teaching students (five from VU, three from Federation University), along with academic support staff from both universities will spend a month in Numbulwar, working with local kids, school community, Indigenous Elders, and Indigenous support officers to co-create story books on local traditions and cultural events.

Home to a small community of over six hundred residents, the remote town of Numbulwar is on the east coast of Arnhem Land, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, more than 400km east of Katherine.

“This is the third year that the SWiRL Program has been delivered at Numbulwar School. We value the opportunity to share the trials, tribulations and treasures of remote living and working in Indigenous communities,” Numbulwar School Acting Principal Hamish Pawlaczyk said.

The visiting preservice teachers also develop skills in the areas of Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous ways of being in the world, along with the importance of understanding a need to develop teaching and learning approaches that are culturally sensitive and respectful of Indigenous standpoints and worldviews.

The stories that Indigenous students write about are based on their lived experiences that are reflective of a deep connection to land, Country, and cultural traditions. The SWiRL Program is committed to supporting teaching and learning approaches that support and engage Indigenous communities in culturally appropriate ways.

“The SWiRL Program is not only innovative, but it also enhances preservice teachers’ knowledge of Indigenous standpoints and Indigenous cultural traditions in remote communities. The program seeks to critique, question, and interrogate the impact of colonisation on Indigenous communities and their land,” SWiRL Program Co-ordinator VU’s Associate Professor Marcelle Cacciattolo said.

Associate Professor Amanda McGraw, Coordinator of the Master of Teaching (Secondary) Program at Federation University, said the opportunity to partner with VU in the delivery of the SWiRL program offers preservice teachers a “rare and significant experience.”

Only days into the month-long experience, VU student Bree Tomsett said, “Participating in the program has given me a greater appreciation for working alongside Indigenous communities, in remote and regional territories, in culturally respectful ways.”

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