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Wulungarra Community School

Walmajarri language and English literacy

The context | Walmajarri language and English Literacy


The context

Wulungarra

Wulungarra Community School is an autonomous, independent school, but associated with others through the Aboriginal Independent Community Schools of WA (AICS). The AICS does not function as a system but provides for cooperation and support between the 14 schools in the organisation. The AICS support unit is based in Broome and Perth.

The following details are reproduced from Wulungarra's pages of the AICS website, and reprinted by permission of the school.


Wulungarra Community School is a small community school in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It is located south east of Fitzroy Crossing on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert and surrounded by the Saint George Ranges.

The name of the community is Kadjina and it is also known as Millijidee, the name of the cattle station managed by this community. There are approximately 75 people living in the community, 30 of whom are school children.

There is road access via a dirt road and through the Fitzroy River for the most part of the year. During the wet season we only have access via light planes. When the roads are accessible we are 230 km, or three hours drive, from Fitzroy Crossing and five hours drive from Broome (via Noonkanbah if we can drive across the river). The school has two Toyota troop carriers used for bush trips and general school business.

Wulungarra Community School began operating as an outstation of Kulkarriya Community School in the early eighties. During 1997 it gained independent status and now caters specifically for the cultural and linguistic needs of the people living at Kadjina Community. The school is governed by representatives of the community and is chaired by Yangkana Madeleine Laurel. Yangkana has a strong commitment to the teaching of language and culture as well as more conventional school knowledge such as literacy in English and numeracy.

The school caters to a range of ages and abilities from preschoolers to adolescents in two multiaged classrooms. We have a strong commitment to maintaining and strengthening children's knowledge and use of traditional language and cultural practices.

All children at Kadjina come to school with English as their second or third language. Their home language environment is a combination of Walmajarri and Kriol and English to varying degrees. A high priority in our school is to teach the children to speak, read and write in English.


Walmajarri language and English literacy

School chairperson, Yangkana Madeleine Laurel working with students and teacher, Brad Everson.

School chairperson, Yangkana Madeleine Laurel working with students and teacher, Brad Everson.

In 1997, Yangkana wrote the following, in Walmajarri and English:


Jarla lamparn marna ngujajangka najukurangu ngamajingu jaa ngarpungu pajipila wangkiyunganiny Walmatjarrigurnu.

Yaniny jangka marna. Kuulkarti ngajirta marnanyanta rukanyjarla ngaju - kuranga wangki. Jalarra marna yutukarralany Walmajarri wangki mirlimirlinga yangka pajirlu jurlalany jarlujanka wangki Walmajarri wangki pa purlka Wamarn kujarra palu malany ngurrawalany ngurrawalany minyartini martuwarra.

Jiljignurnu palu pirriyaniny Walmajarri jartini wangki. Wali.

Yangkana and teacher, Chrissie Perks

Yangkana and teacher, Chrissie Perks

When I was a child living with my mother and father, they taught me to talk my language and to understand every word they told me.

When I went away to school I still remembered my language. I was away for a long time at a mission in Fitzroy Crossing. They never let us talk our language there, but we used to sneak away and talk where we couldn't be heard.

I taught myself to write Walmajarri. I studied the Christian songs that were written in Walmajarri. Now, when the old people tell me stories, I can write them down.

There are a lot of people talking Walmajarri along the Fitzroy River and in the Great Sandy Desert.

I am happy that I can speak, write and teach kids Walmajarri, so I teach our kids our language.

Principal, Carolyn Pickett:

Current Principal, Carolyn Pickett (right) with the school's first Principal, Sue Thomas.

Current Principal, Carolyn Pickett (right) with the school's first Principal, Sue Thomas.

We see our core business as literacy and numeracy and Walmajarri. That's my brief from the community, that's what they want to concentrate on. I think we've got the best staff in the Kimberley here and the community is very strong about what they want. The level of community involvement is exceptional, through good times and bad.

We have a full complement of community staff workers and both secondary and primary classrooms do Walmajarri every day, usually with Yangkana. She has also worked with the teachers to develop resources and teaching techniques for the language as well. They've even managed to incorporate some ideas from scaffolding.

The community is very committed to scaffolding literacy because they see the kids learning to read. I see it as an effective way to acquire skills. And what really matters (in any reading program) is consistency, the love of reading that you bring to it, and that you work, work, work with the kids.

They have a very positive attitude to reading and you can sometimes see that when they're with kids from other communities. They seem much more comfortable just grabbing a book and reading it. And we've created a culture in which big kids read to little kids.

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