I’ve spent the last few days with my feet in the red dirt in Martu country, north of the Goldfield region in Western Australia, celebrating the success of community innovation in Indigenous Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Not only are communities like Wiluna on Martu Country demonstrating their innovation in implementing two-way science (the practice of bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges together) initiatives, they are also being rewarded for it on a national scale.
At Wiluna Remote Community School, Principal Adriano Truscott has established two-way science as part of the education curriculum in close consultation with traditional owners and Martu elders, Rita Cutter and Lena Long.
The education program has been supported by the CSIRO and uses the Martu calendar of seasons, plants, animals, weather, environment and sustainability as a launching pad for learning both, out on country and in the classroom. Adriano or “Mr T” as the kids call him, says this learning “always starts orally and then translates into other standard classroom practices of reading and writing.”
The school’s motto is Wiltu Ngara or “Stand Strong”; the traditional owners were passionate that Martu language needed to be present in everyday teaching practices at the school. Adriano explained that, “about three years ago we had a meeting at the school about language. Families want language at the school, they’ve always wanted it. Language is one of the priorities at the school as well as health and attendance.”
The school philosophy has been established in close consultation with the community with the support of families being paramount to the school’s success. It is both Nanna Rita and Nanna Lena that have shaped a process of “old ways” teaching where Martu rangers and local families take the students out on country to show them how the Martu calendar comes to life, this knowledge and learning is then taken into the classroom as a resource for teachers to continue exploring.
It was family event at Wiluna Remote Community School for the official winner announcement of the CSIRO Indigenous STEM Awards, and many from the community were there to celebrate. Local families cooked up a feed of Kangaroo tail stew and damper for the teachers, students, locals and guests that gathered, and it was delicious!
Mary Mulcahy, Director of Education at CSIRO announced Wiluna Remote Community School as the winner of the school Indigenous STEM Award which she said, “recognised leadership in Indigenous STEM education.”
The whole community was thrilled to be acknowledged for the work that they are doing in Indigenous STEM, land management and environmental sustainability. The ten thousand dollar prize money is a game changer for a remote community school with exciting future plans for their students.
Nanna Rita explained that “today is a very special, special day, because of our school done all this training with us, two way science, got us elders involved with CSIRO, working with the school, learning our way, the Martu way and the white side, schooling, education, we didn’t want our Martu kids to miss out on this, we are teaching them how to cook with special plants that we used to use all the time with the old people.”
While in Wiluna, we met some local heroes including Sandra Wongawal, a Martu Elder that works at the school, and Stuart Long, a Martu Ranger from Wiluna who spoke about how the community focus on educational and two-way science had led to many more opportunities for the youth, as well as other community members.
“In the future we want the children to have better education, cultural knowledge to carry on and hopefully see them in universities and coming back to the community as doctors, lawyers and things like that.” Stuart Long said.
We spent the following day in Leonora, about 3 hours north of Wiluna driving through red dirt and beautiful scrubland on the way. We were lucky enough to be taken out on country to Malcolm Dam with Nanna Fifi Harris and a very special young man, Boyden George. Leonora District High School is also engaged in two-way learning with trips out on country with local community members and teachers the school, including Nanna Fifi who translates lessons in the classroom on environment, sustainability and language.
In late 2017, Boyden discovered a new species of spider on one such excursion to Malcolm dam with his “mate Dave” from the CSIRO and his teachers. Boyden said he was “happy, excited and a bit shocked when he found out that he was the first person to discover this species of spider.”
At Leonora District High School, Uncle Kado Muir gave the Wayipa or ‘Welcome to Country’and in the words of the school song Ngalipa pukurlpa Ngali yinkaku – ‘We are so happy to see you here.’
Nanna Fifi Harris was acknowledged for the work she has done in the community to encourage STEM initiatives in and out of the classroom with the Indigenous STEM Champion Award from the CSIRO. She accepted the Award with tears saying to the kids, “I know you see me as the grumpy Aunty but I absolutely love taking you kids out on country and teaching you culture.” Fifi later introduced us to three baby joeys she is fostering in her classroom and some language activities and games she uses to engage the kids in learning language in a way that is entertaining and fun.
Boyden also received the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student Award in Science for his dedication and enthusiasm about science and the environment. Boyden showed great initiative in showing Dave the spider when he found it, insisting Dave take photos of the spider and investigating what species it could be.
It is always special to be out on country and talking directly to our communities and hear directly from them. Even in the short time spent in remote WA, I’ll miss the inspiring and courageous community leaders and people we’ve met on this trip, I’ll miss the heat, the red dirt, heck, and I’ll even miss the flies.
Rhanna Collins is a Palawa woman and NITV Project Manager. Follow Rhanna @
This article was made in partnership with CSIRO