Brilliant article on Google, plus an English teaching thing

Did you see Tim Adams on Google and the future of search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph? It appeared online on 19 January, but I only caught up with it via the ink-and-paper Guardian Weekly on Friday. It is a major must-read.

Thinking about Google over the last week, I have fallen into the typically procrastinatory habit of every so often typing the words "what is" or "what" or "wha" into the Google search box at the top right of my computer screen. Those prompts are all the omnipotent engine needs to inform me of the current instant top 10 of the virtual world’s most urgent desires. At the time of typing, this list reads, in descending order:

What is the fiscal cliff
What is my ip
What is obamacare
What is love
What is gluten
What is instagram
What does yolo mean
What is the illuminati
What is a good credit score
What is lupus

It is a list that indicates anxieties, not least the ways in which we are restlessly fixated with our money, our bodies and our technology – and paranoid and confused in just about equal measure. A Prince Charles-like desire for the definition of love, in my repetitive experience of the last few days, always seems to come in at No 4 on this list of priorities, though the preoccupations above it and below it tend to shift slightly with the news.

The list also supports another truism: that we – the billion components of the collective questioning mind – have got used to asking Google pretty much anything and expecting it to point us to some kind of satisfactory answer. It’s long since become the place most of us go for knowledge, possibly even, desperately, for wisdom. And it is already almost inconceivable to imagine how we might have gone about finding the answer to some of these questions only 15 years ago without it – a visit to the library? To a doctor? To Citizens Advice? To a shrink?

That was the time, in the prehistory of about 1995, when our ideas of "search" still carried the sense of the word’s Latin roots – a search was a kind of "arduous quest" that invariably involved "wandering" and "seeking" and "traversing". Not any longer. For those who are growing up to search in this millennium, it implies nothing more taxing than typing two words into a box – or, increasingly, mumbling them into a phone – and waiting less than an instant for a comprehensive answer, generally involving texts and images and films and books and maps. Search’s sense of questing purpose has already gone the way of other pre-Google concepts, such as "getting lost".

That rate of change – of how we gather information, how we make connections and think – has been so rapid that it invites a further urgent Google question. Where will search go next?…

Now the bits on education.

e0578fec1b858a174a99dacbb9b5d750a3556b90Ages ago I moaned about our pollies, Julia Gillard and/or Kevin Rudd specifically at the time, were looking in some of the wrongest places for policy ideas. See for example Memo to Julie Gillard and Kevin RuddThe real education revolution…, Education: wrong path, Ms Gillard?, The promised education post and in 2012 A must read: Schools We Can Envy by Diane Ravitch.   Now via Smashwords I have a freebie eBook which promises much: Mark Wilson, You Are An English Teacher! (2013).

A Guide To The True Basics – for Parents, Pupils, Pedagogues, Politicians…Presidents and probably even Prime Ministers. A trip through the learning of English as a mother tongue from minute one onwards. The resurrection of common sense, intuition, and the syllabus that’s always been here.

Mark Wilson sounds like an interesting person, and I am sure he was a good English teacher (in the UK). I have been reading this book with some pleasure, as much of it is refreshingly sensible. On the other hand from an ESL perspective his thesis leaves much still to account for. His assumption seems to be a monolingual childhood. Now in the UK that is most people, even today.

Polish is now the main language spoken in England and Wales after English and Welsh, according to 2011 census data released by the Office of National Statistics.

The language-speaking figures recorded for the first time from a survey of 56.1 million residents of England and Wales show 546,000 speak Polish. It is now the second main language in England. There are still slightly more Welsh speakers in Wales at 562,000.

The next biggest main languages are the south Asian languages of Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali and Gujarati, followed by Arabic, French, Chinese and Portuguese. The statisticians said they recorded over 100 different languages and 49 main languages with more than 15,000 users…

Some of the languages are in a tiny minority. For example, there was only one person in Barnet who said they spoke Caribbean creole and one person in Bexley.

58 people speak Scottish Gaelic, 33 speak Manx Gaelic and 629 speak Romany…

One million households have no residents with English as a main language, although most had some proficiency in English, the ONS said.

Only 138,000 people could not speak English at all.

"The West Midlands is the region with the lowest percentage of people that can speak English very well or well at 72%" said Roma Chappell, census director. It was the region that also had the highest number of people who can’t speak English at all.

Compare:

In Australia 76.8% of people only spoke English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Mandarin 1.6%, Italian 1.4%, Arabic 1.3%, Cantonese 1.2% and Greek 1.2%.  20.4% of Australians live in households where two or more languages are spoken. Only 53.7% of Australians have both parents born in Australia.

Even so, while as an ESL teacher I have some reservations, I still commend Mark Wilson’s book. An extract:

William Blake said if others had not been foolish, we should be so. I think that’s a pretty good definition of progress.

When the feeling that something was wrong, not with children but with the school system itself, stirred once more within the country about twenty years ago, because businesses and universities were complaining that children were leaving school unable to spell, write essays, needed ‘the basics’ and so on; a popular question with regard to English was: “How much should we teach children about language?”

This always sounded strangely proprietorial to me, as if the people who were saying it thought they actually owned language. Anyway, it merely signalled the next bitter battle in the political wars which are fought on the battleground of education.

But, for reasons I hope I’ve made clear, my answer then, as now, is this: What we really know about language is surprisingly little, but of excellent quality. Our real, shared, knowledge of language, amounts to the true conventions of English and the many ways people have used them effectively down through the years. I think we should teach children all that we really know about language, and study lots of famous writers and speakers. The earlier we provide an environment which allows them to use and develop these conventions within their own psyches, the better. There can be no doubt that families are intended to be a child’s first language teachers….

In the meantime, though, individuals have the opportunity to improve matters for themselves and for their children right away. If we are to avoid the mere repetition of the past fifty years or so, we must look for something beyond the old arguments between grammarians and their anti antagonists; which is what I have done here. And there is nothing at all to stop us from teaching communication through language intensively to deprived children, in schools, right now.

When I started planning this book, I was determined that it should be a very slim volume, easy on the eye, and yet it should be an adequate alternative to the growing mountain of, for me, unreadable academic publications. But this book is also intended to serve, in future times, as an alternative to the gross irresponsibility which will surely follow when the fashion pendulum swings back again.

But, ideally, the reader may simply look at children and see that the teaching of a language is an activity which is more important, and a lot less complicated, than any particular political ideology. Nevertheless, ‘developments’ in education during the twenty years of my career have seemed to be attempts to make my classroom feel less a lively and welcoming place for learning, than a sanctuary threatened by the hostile encroachment of a nearby factory. For all the money spent, the shouting, the initiatives, and the targets, I go into schools while I write this book and things look much the same in the teaching and learning of English. There has always been brilliance, and there has always been deprivation, but now there is a lot more stress and bother.

Some children do as well as the current system allows them to in English. But there are many others in mainstream classes who still cannot read or write properly. Yet they are set tasks which require them to do just that, and when this happens they are frustrated and badly behaved, as you might expect. At the beginning of this book I suggested that we need to work towards a definitive and durable syllabus for the teaching of the subject we all know and love as ‘English’? Do I think there really could be such a thing?

There always has been.

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Bran Nue Day (2009)

This has been on ABC TV several times but each time I missed it – until last night. Loved it.

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Review by David Stratton

And now to end on something uplifting – it is the festive season after all! So that brings us to BRAN NUE DAE…
Willie, ROCKY MACKENZIE, who lives in Broome, loves beautiful Rosie, JESSICA MAUBOY, but can’t bring himself to approach her. Willie’s mother sends him off to a boarding school in Perth run by strict Father Benedictus, GEOFFREY RUSH – but Willie runs away and heads for home accompanied by his uncle, ERNIE DINGO.
Rachel Perkins’ exuberant adaptation of the 1990 stage musical is a lot of fun, despite the fact that it has a rather insipid hero. The energetic staging of the musical numbers is just one of the engaging elements in a film filled with unexpected delights, such as the performances of MISSY HIGGINS and DEBORAH MAILMAN, who are both excellent.
GEOFFREY RUSH is very funny indeed, the pacing is brisk and it all looks terrific.
BRAN NUE DAY represents a really enjoyable visit to the movies this summer…

DAVID: I loved the musical numbers.
MARGARET: It takes a lot to make a musical these days.
DAVID: Yes.
MARGARET: And I think Rachael Perkins has done a fabulous job.
DAVID: I think so too. Yes, I agree.
MARGARET: I’m giving this four stars.
DAVID: Yes, me too, four stars.

It is worth reading the comments on The Movie Show site. One person found the movie racist! I am sure Jimmy Chi, Rachael Perkins et al would be quite surprised. There are people with no sense of humour out there, of course. Not that Bran Nue Dae is all laughs, as my YouTube selection shows. And sometimes the satire cuts several ways:

One of the famous verses from a song in the musical sums up Chi’s dry humour and sharp political approach:

There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit.

See also Bran Nue Dae.

Update

1. Following the success of Bran Nue Dae, Rachel Perkins and Blackfella Films  have gone on to make some really splendid movies and documentaries and, of course, the series Redfern Now. Meanwhile, many of the people in Bran Nue Dae may also be seen in 2012’s very successful The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair. Indigenous stories and voices really are being seen and heard! I notice however that too many TV Guides, including The Australian Review for 22 December, still hide the existence of NITV!

2. Cinematography on Bran Nue Day was by Andrew Lesnie – brilliant.

His work began receiving major attention after the release of the anthropomorphic pig story Babe (1995) and its sequel, Babe: Pig in the City. He was director of photography on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and received an Oscar for his work on The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002. Since then, he has filmed several other Jackson-directed films, including King Kong and The Lovely Bones, and will also film the upcoming The Hobbit films directed by Jackson.

Wikipedia needs to update that last line!

Andrew Lesnie’s son Phillip Lesnie is carving out a career in the arts. I did teach him briefly at SBHS. See Rani P Lukita and Phil Lesnie – Sydney artists / Hand to Hand and his site Monster Friendship Society.

Takes my mind back to the beginning of the century, via this quote from the 2000 SBHS Annual Report. There’s a  name there that is now well known in Indigenous circles too.

Achievements in the Arts

The  school  has  a  very  strong  emphasis  on co-curricular  activities,  particularly  musical  and  choral performance  and debating.
•  The double  in debating  – GPS  Roat Shield  and State Hume Barbour Shield – was achieved. The firsts  (Oscar  McLaren,  Hilbert  Chiu,  Robbie Moore and Mike Martin) were undefeated.
•  Eugene  Schofield-Georgeson,  Jonathan Ailwood,  Morgan  Green  – Art  Express finalists.
•  Jack  Manning-Bancroft  and  Mihai  Sora participated  in  the  English  Teachers Conference.
•  Michael  Nelson,  Jason  Kok  and  Thomas Norrie were chosen to  play in the NSW Public Schools  Symphony Orchestra.
•  Robbie  Moore’s  play  ‘Wolves’  was  accepted for a reading by a theatre group.
•  Phillip  Lesnie  won  the  Sydney  Theatre Company’s ‘Young Playwrights Award’.
•  Peter  Hayward,  Justin  Hill  and  Thomas Beamish sang at the opening ceremonies at the Olympic  Games,  the  Paralympic  Games  and the Pacific Schools Games.

On NITV again and related issues

I see the Herald has an extract from the upcoming final Boyer Lecture by Marcia Langton, a person who quite often says, rightly or wrongly,  what people don’t really want to hear. I rather admire her.

There is an undercurrent in the reconciliation movement that has gone unnoticed. At public events over the last 20 years, many Aboriginal advocates of reconciliation have addressed themselves not to the settlers who want absolution for their ancestral past, but to young Aboriginal people attracted to the ”Aboriginal sovereignty” slogans. They have tried to deter them from a fatuous political path towards ideas and activities that will improve their lives and sense of self-esteem.

Noel Pearson challenged Michael Mansell and his entourage to develop an ideological consciousness "that goes beyond absolutist, nihilist daydreaming about what should be, but instead become concerned with how we are actually going to go about making things the way they should be".

I have been thrilled by the Redfern Now ABC television series. Produced and directed by Rachel Perkins of Blackfella Films and a magnificent team of indigenous writers, actors and technicians, it speaks to the Aboriginal people who have lived through these turgid political dramas. It depicts the emergence of an Aboriginal middle class with veracity, its members intimately linked to their families living on the Block in Redfern, and the transference of Aboriginal cultural values from the Block to the suburbs. It shows Aboriginal values and social practices at work in dramatic scenes of encounters with the police and the struggles of families to deter youth from criminal activities and with mental illness.

Artists such as Perkins and her exceptional team members have done a far better job than anthropologists and the political ideologues in describing these challenges. With minute attention to the intimate details of Aboriginal life at the Block and the tendrils of familial, social and political connection across geographies, class and history, they have broadcast more truth and sociological sophistication into Australian homes than thousands of papers from the intellectual militias of the "Indigenous Affairs" machine.

Those of us who have raged against the machine and won some few successes know that the challenge lies in large part in capturing the hearts and minds of young people with a message of hope. The elements of that picture of their future that they must imagine for themselves must come from opportunities to enable them to live a good life. This is why Pearson’s welfare reform and education initiatives are so important and effective in transforming the lives of people in Cape York. The inspiration Noel has given to others across the country should not be underestimated. In the face of the rancorous denials from the exclusive club of Pearson haters, the facts keep stacking up.

A younger generation of Aboriginal people are telling stories through literature, the arts, film and music and speaking back to history and oppression without the burden of the culture wars. Redfern Now, The Sapphires, directed by Wayne Blair, Toomelah, directed by Ivan Sen, and Samson and Delilah, directed by Warwick Thornton, are just some examples of their outpouring of creative work, thinking and writing. Indigenous filmmakers and television producers have cemented their place in the mainstream winning over audiences and proving their box office success…

That will really get up some noses around the country, but I think she is quite right about “the intellectual militias of the ‘Indigenous Affairs’ machine…” Nor should we overlook, beyond her anger about that issue, the overall positive thrust of what she is saying.

You can judge Ivan Sen’s Toomelah for yourself on Sunday thanks to NITV, and see Marcia Langton feature in First Australians. Burned Bridge, I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard of!

  • 7:30pm First Australians

    This landmark series chronicles the birth of contemporary Australia as never told before, from the perspective of its first people. It explores what unfolds when the oldest living culture in the world is overrun by the world’s greatest empire, and depicts the true stories of individuals – both black and white. The story begins in 1788 in Sydney with the friendship between an Englishmen, Governor Phillip, and a warrior, Bennelong. Documentary (PG)

  • 8:45pm Burned Bridge

    In the remote Australian town of Brooklyn Waters, NSW, a police officer and a radio producer investigate the horrifying murder of a young Aboriginal girl. Starring Cate Blanchett and Ernie Dingo.

  • 9:40pm Toomelah

    Daniel is a small ten year old boy who dreams of being a gangster. He is kicked out of school and befriends a local gang leader, until a rival arrives back from jail to reclaim his turf.

It is worth it to give those program details as I see The Australian and The Illawarra Mercury haven’t yet registered in the print versions of their TV guides that NITV Channel 34 exists!  The Herald Guide did so from Day One.

Check NITV programming here.

I will, however, watch the NSW Department of Education (that is, PUBLIC education!) rising above all the crap politicians and others fling at it and the funding they fling rather less, in what will clearly be yet again a fabulous Schools Spectacular on ABC1 at 6 pm.

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The Schools Spectacular is a world-class arena production and one of the largest annual events of its calibre anywhere in Australia – and arguably the world. Since 1984 the Schools Spectacular has grown to become more than just a showcase highlighting the talents of the students of New South Wales public schools. It is an iconic cultural event incorporating students from diverse backgrounds and communities from the length and breadth of the state. The Schools Spectacular is a remarkable New South Wales success story and is proudly presented by the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

Images from the 2012 show – see  the Schools Spectacular Gallery page.

In The Gong–good news and bad news

Crown Street Mall yesterday experienced a visit from leafy Killara…

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Some of our students down here are, it seems, up against it. Consider this graphic from today’s Illawarra Mercury.

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Parts of the Illawarra are trailing badly behind the digital age, with more than a third of households in some suburbs still not connected to the internet.

The lag is creating a digital divide largely along postcode lines, according to latest Census data.

In Warrawong, more than 41 per cent of households are not connected to the internet, compared with 11.5 per cent in the 2508 postcode covering Coalcliff, Helensburgh, Otford, Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops.

Barnardos community development worker Michelle Ridding believes the divide is creating a new "layer of disadvantage" among primary school-aged children…

In the Illawarra, broadband take-up is lowest in postcodes 2528 (Barrack Heights, Barrack Point, Lake Illawarra, Mount Warrigal, Warilla and Windang); 2506 (Berkeley) and 2505 (Kemblawarra, Port Kembla).

Australia-wide, 19.7 per cent of households have no internet, down from 35.4 per cent in 2006.

In the Illawarra, the average is 22.6 per cent, down from 39 per cent.

Some people in every Illawarra postcode – about 3.5 per cent – continue to use dial-up.

Work on the federal government’s National Broadband Network roll-out is expected to begin in Warrawong and surrounding suburbs within three years.

Kiama Downs and Minnamurra are already connected to the faster network and 44 per cent of eligible households have made use of it. Construction is under way in Wollongong, Dapto and elsewhere in the Illawarra, with Kiama next to be connected.

Meanwhile the local university has done rather well in a report into the quality of research taking place in Australian universities.

The Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) 2012 report takes into account more than 60,000 staff, $8.7 billion in external research funding and 413,000 publi-cations.

The report says that 90 per cent of the fields of research assessed at UOW delivered at or above world standard.

The assessment system confirmed UOW’s research excellence in areas including chemical sciences, geology, materials and interdisciplinary engineering, clinical sciences, tourism and human geography.

"These ERA outcomes recognise the research effort across all UOW faculties and areas of research strength," UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Judy Raper said yesterday.

"[These include] for example the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute, the Institute for Superconducting and Electronic Materials and Materials and Manufacturing Engineering," Professor Raper said.

"This collective effort has contributed to an outstanding success."

The University of Wollongong received the highest national rating in the broad discipline area of chemical sciences…

Another report in The Mercury has rather more mixed news even if the headline asserts: Illawarra set for better year: report.

IRIS’s September Profile Illawarra reflects a range of economic activity; some good, some not so good.

It showed export trade activity at Port Kembla grew by 6.1 per cent in the year to June, imports fell 20.2 per cent, job advertisements dropped 10.3 per cent, the region’s coal production increased by 16.1 per cent, and there was a fall in the number of land, house and unit sales.

During the financial year 2011-12 there were 3468 house sales, 1502 unit sales and 481 land-only sales.

At the end of the year 187,800 people were employed, down 2.6 per cent.

Unemployment was up 0.1 percentage points to 6.7 per cent and youth unemployment fell to 14.3 per cent from 15.1 per cent.

Labour force figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showed the national unemployment rate fell from 5.4 per cent to 5.2 per cent in November.

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Union pride, plus today’s activity

Late, am I not?

Hey, given recent attitudes to unions please note:

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Prompted by tonight’s inspiring Compass episode about Stewart House.

Today I have been working on the slow process of preparing the Christmas/New Year DVD for family and friends.

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It takes hours from first preparing a video to finally burning the DVDs.

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In between had a great phone conversation with my brother in Tasmania.

Mad pollies: cut, cut and cut again, and hang the consequences…

Let’s hope they have more brains than that, but I am not holding my breath.

From The Illawarra Mercury.

Illawarra’s multicultural services will be forced to take up the slack if multicultural program staff are lost in a Department of Education and Communities restructure.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the multicultural support positions were not included in a draft proposal of the restructure sent to department offices this month.

Under the restructure – part of the NSW government’s plan to save $1.7 billion in education spending – Illawarra schools will be absorbed into a super region and support jobs will be cut.

"There is no provision for ensuring that the current level of multicultural program support for schools will continue," Ms Calnan said.

"Under this realignment, the positions of multicultural/ESL [English as a second language] consultant, community information officer, regional multicultural support officer and ESL/refugee- teacher mentors won’t even exist."

Ms Calnan said the multicultural program staff performed several roles, from providing professional learning and support for ESL teachers to running multicultural and anti-racism programs in schools.

Earlier this week, the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) convened a meeting of all CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities) representatives from the region.

MCCI general manager Terrie Leoleos said the loss of these valuable school roles would adversely affect the region’s already disadvantaged communities.

"The Education Department’s multicultural support program has played an intricate and important role across the state in supporting migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants and settlements into this country, particularly in regional areas," Ms Leoleos said.

"Cutting positions like these … will be detrimental not only to those communities but it will put a lot of pressure on multicultural services, which are already stretched and will have to take up the shortfall."

The MCCI this week sent a letter to the Education Department asking that they do a comprehensive review and engage multicultural services and communities in the process.

A department spokesman said a revised model of the restructure would be available on Monday, with a final model to be released on December 21.

Having been an ESL teacher in the not too distant past, I know just how much I valued, indeed needed, the services that it appears may be about to become victims of small government ideology/bean counting. They operated on a shoestring even back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I can’t begin to tell you how good they are! Consider, for example:

Refugee support programs

A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group.

In recent years, increasing numbers of young refugees, in particular refugees from Africa and the Middle East, have enrolled in government schools in both metropolitan and country areas of NSW. About 1,600 enrol each year. At any time approximately 12,000 refugee students are enrolled in NSW government schools.

These students come from a number of countries in Africa, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Burundi, as well as countries in Asia and the Middle East, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many refugee families have lived in protracted refugee situations before coming to Australia. Some students were born and have lived all their lives in refugee camps. All have experienced disrupted schooling. Some may have had very limited schooling and, as a result, have few or no first language literacy skills.

Many of the recently arrived refugees have high resettlement and educational needs and may need high levels of support. However, it is important to avoid over-generalisation as this is not the case with all refugees. Conclusions about a refugee student’s capabilities and needs should be reached through careful assessment over a period of time.

Traumatic experiences that refugee students encounter before they start school in Australia may impact considerably on their learning and behaviour at school. In some cases, post traumatic stress and poor health due to refugee experiences can lead to absences from school, or manifest in poor behaviour in the classroom.

The safety, security and support provided by schools are critical factors in ensuring the adjustment of refugee children and adolescents to life and schooling in Australia. Officers at Multicultural Programs Unit can assist regions in planning and delivering successful refugee support programs.

I am not directly familiar with what is happening in schools down here in the Illawarra, where I now live, but one may get an idea from school sites such as Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts.

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Images from a Wollongong High Powerpoint presentation.

Recent developments in our asylum seeker policy continue to depress me. Some consolation may be found in seeing fellow feeling among the Herald cartoonists lately.

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Croker Island Exodus

Croker Island Exodus is a documentary to be screened on ABC1 next Tuesday. I think I had heard of the story and in an odd way it intersects with some things in my life – with a place at least – and Jim Belshaw will be pleased to see there is an Armidale connection.

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1941, all white women and children are evacuated from Darwin. Japanese invasion is imminent. On a tiny Methodist mission on Croker Island in the Arafura Sea, the Superintendent and three Cottage mothers are responsible for 95 stolen generation Aboriginal children allocated to their care by the government. The missionaries are given the option of evacuating but how could they leave these children? However food supplies are running dangerously low and no help comes through the long Wet. February 1942, a message by pedal radio, Darwin has been bombed, the missionaries will now have to move the children off the island themselves. So they begin their perilous journey.

Their first destination requires a trek over many miles of open savannah and the harsh beautiful stone country of Arnhem Land. When the old truck becomes bogged, the children help push it to harder ground. They gather armfuls of water lily stalks and climb for berries in the bush plum trees. At night they make camp, using their dwindling supply of flour and yeast to make damper. It will still be many miles walking.

At Oenpelli they expect to stay 3 days but it is weeks before word that they will have to walk another 60 miles to meet government trucks. With help from the traditional Aboriginal men they cross the flooded East Alligator River by dug out canoe. The river is home to saltwater crocodiles but despite falling into the river they make it across safely.

After many days, they meet up with the trucks. But arriving in Pine Creek they find an American army base, no beds just the Butcher’s Paddock on the outskirts of town.

They finally board a cattle train en route to Alice Springs and their destination a Methodist Farm on the outskirts of Sydney. In 44 days these brave women and their young charges travel from Arnhem Land across the continent, a truly heroic and untold journey.

But this is also an epic story of human endurance and resilience.

In 1946 Margaret returned to Croker with the children including Alice, Netta and Jessie who are now in their 80s. They have endured so much in their lives but their friendships forged on Croker remain strong and feisty. These Aboriginal women still call Margaret, now 99 years, ‘sister’. It is their shared stories of love, humour and compassion that are central to this film.

They ended up at Otford, arriving no doubt in a train like this – as I also did in 1959 to attend a camp in the very house where these children stayed!

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The Armidale connection is through this book, which I have just reserved from Wollongong Library.

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a Reflection of Childhood Memories, 1942- 1946: Children from Otford, New South Wales and Croker Island, Northern Territory.

This wonderful first told tale of a unique childhood spent at Otford Public School with Aboriginal children evacuated from Croker Island during World War II.

Set in a rural setting outside Sydney, the author shares personal memories of an important time in Australian history, and reflects her own sense of cultural awareness at an early age.

Kardoorair Press was established in 1979, primarily as an outlet for poets based on the Northern Tablelands, New England Region of New South Wales or writers with an affiliation with the region.

An online history of Helensburgh, next station on the Illawarra Line towards Sydney, recalls the time of these events.

… During the ‘40s Australia was mainly absorbed with the War effort and post-war reconstruction. Stanwell Park beach was littered with concrete tank traps and coils of barbed wire. The old rail tunnel to Otford was blasted. Some installations were constructed and a small RAAF force settled in to await the attack. Naturally a number of the local men joined the services and the ladies auxiliaries set to for the war effort. Knitting, collecting old aluminium pots and pans became the order of the day. Otford served host to a group of Aboriginal evacuees from Crocker Island north of Australia. The school was enlarged to handle the influx of children. The Helensburgh branch of the Red Cross was reinstituted and set up shop in the Anglican Church Hall. Soon homes and public buildings alike had their windows covered with "black out" paper. Wartime want, rationing and the like, was thrown aside on 19th August 1945. It was "Victory Sunday". Services of thanksgiving were held in all the local churches to celebrate the end of the War.

During the post-war reconstruction a clothing factory was built in Walker Street providing some local employment to the women of the town. The old rail tunnels were used for mushroom production, another useful local employer. On the political scene the Bulli Shire amalgamated with Wollongong in 1947 to form the Greater Wollongong region. It was a controversial move and can still start a good debate…

P08727

That appears to be the whole school…

In one neat package, this terrific doco explores our World War II history, the process of Aboriginal assimilation, the work of 20th-century missionaries, and the extraordinary personal stories of individuals involved. In the early 1940s, a mob of indigenous kids from the Top End were rounded up and sent to a new Methodist mission on Croker Island – off the coast from Darwin – and into the care of a young woman, Margaret Somerville. Not long afterwards, they were ordered to evacuate when the Japanese started bombing Australia’s northernmost city. Unfortunately, no one in authority bothered to do anything more than issue the order, leaving it up to Sister Somerville to almost single-handedly get 95 kids from Croker – via Arnhem Land and the Red Centre – to, eventually, Sydney. It was an incredible journey by boat, canoe, truck, train and foot, and it’s brought to life beautifully by clever re-enactments, as well as archival footage and interviews with survivors. The old aunties who feature are great characters, as is Somerville, whose memoir forms the basis of the program. It’s also a beautifully structured and balanced story that, among other things, gives one of the most nuanced and compelling insights into being ”taken away” we’ve seen on the small screen.

SMH