• "When someone who couldn’t write or hold a pen is able to read a full sentence, that’s when you know just how important literacy." (NITV News)Source: NITV News
When it was discovered that around half of the adults in the north west NSW town of Brewarrina were functionally illiterate, it was clear that something had to change to give their community members a better chance to move ahead and succeed in life.
Emily Nicol

29 Jul 2017 - 6:40 PM  UPDATED 29 Jul 2017 - 6:48 PM

For many, the prospect of going back to a classroom as an adult brought about a feeling of trepidation and shame, but with the support of friends, family and facilitators, many have completed an adult literacy course and changed their lives for the better.

Brewarrina local Mary Waites is the positive driving force as coordinator of the Yes, I Can course which is run over 13 weeks. Her enthusiasm for giving her people a second chance inspired many in the community to take the course. NITV spoke to two of the course participants about their journey.

Nolene Murphy completed year 10 of high school but due to some challenges in early life had not gone on to do any further study, and found that simply getting by with day to day tasks and feeling motivated was an issue.

"I felt shame going back to school as an adult but my friends and family were around me and were a good support. The biggest challenge for me during the course was being available for family issues and sorry business, but that was mostly it."

Nolene recalls being hesitant about the course at first. "At the first class I  was nervous, but the teachers were all nice and I quickly started to feel comfortable. They gave me time and a lot of help."

 At the first class I  was nervous, but the teachers were all nice and I quickly started to feel comfortable. They gave me time and a lot of help.

Mary says that during the first few weeks there was a lot of assistance from the tutors and Nolene struggled to do things such as read instructions, but after completing the course has created a handmade bag, with Aboriginal design completely independant of help. She says the change in her skill has been 'remarkable'.

"I just completed my arts and crafts bag today and read the instructions all by myself, it felt really great." says Nolene.

Lavina Wright initially decided to take the course, alongside her 24 year old daughter as she also struggled in day to day communication and especially saying big words.

"I enjoyed the course and found it relatively easy at times but very rewarding. I enjoyed every aspect of the course." said Lavina.

Similar to Nolene, Year 10 was the peak of education for Lavina and she was happy to sit down again in a classroom. "I had no shame going back to learn. I got by with support from friends and it was great to have my daughter complete the course with me. She was very quiet and shy before the course, unlike me, but now is much more confident and very talkative!"

Both Nolene and Lavina say that the decision to overcome shame and take on the course has been rewarding and highly recommend others who have been in their position to do the same. "The support of the teachers and facilitators is great, and there is a wonderful sense of community with the other students." says Nolene.

Lavina agrees, adding that what they have learnt can have far reaching benefits for their mob. "I think it’s good for our people to learn to read and write, especially to make them feel more confident.

Waites travelled with a dozen of the students featured in the documentary along with the producer, Erica Glynn.

“Having them here has made this whole thing so exciting. To the mob back home, just be proud of the Yes I Can project and be proud of the mob representing Brewarrina.” Waites said.

Glynn says the participation of the community was inspiring.

“This mob does a really great job of covering up for not being able to read and write, but coming out of their shell and finding the courage to talk about their illiteracy and to be able to act on it is an amazing thing. Their triumphant and achievement is really amazing.”


In My Own Words tells the story of a remote community teaching adults to read and write. Part of NITV & SBS' #YouAreHere series airing on Sundays, 30 8.30pm on NITV Ch. 34