Kings Canyon community invests in secondary education


2619 Kings Canyon school Vivienne OKThe traditional owners of the iconic Watarrka – Kings Canyon National Park have combined their rent income from the park with private donations to build a secondary school classroom to keep their children at school for longer, according to a media release from the Central Land Council (CLC).
The open plan classroom, computer room and teachers office was launched yesterday with a smoking ceremony at Lilla outstation, more than four hours south west of Alice Springs.
Traditional owner Sadie Williams said the $320,000 investment will enable local students to stay living with their families in surrounding outstations while they continue their studies at the Watarrka school until year 10.
“We have fought hard over many years for our primary school to stay open so that our kids can get a good bilingual and bicultural education on country,” Mrs Williams is quoted in the release.
“We put some of our own money to build a high school out bush for our children. Kids won’t get homesick like when they have to go away to school in cities. It makes our kids feel happy and safe living at home with their families and going to high school.”
The traditional owners invested $135,000 of their collective rent income in the project, while the not-for-profit Watarrka Foundation raised the balance from a variety of sources over an 18 month period.
2619 Kings Canyon school play OKThe CLC’s community development program supported the traditional owners to plan and monitor the construction project in partnership with the foundation.
“These community-driven initiatives are more likely to help close the education gap than top-down government programs because the childrens’ families are engaged and are using their own income,” the release quotes CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard.
The traditional owners’ investment in the secondary classroom project builds on their earlier decisions to spend more than $180,000 for education support projects for the Watarrka outstations and their school.
“The right to access an education in your home environment is an accepted human right and we are proud of having contributed towards providing this to the families in Watarrka,” Watarrka Foundation chair Paul Jensen is quoted.
Christine Munro, a teacher at the Watarrka school and a member of the foundation’s advisory group, provided on-site support to the secondary classroom project.
Before the project, she had to teach up to 25 students of all ages in one small classroom.
“Having an additional classroom has enabled us to separate the students into age groups and give them each more focused attention which is helping them to learn faster.”
2619 Kings Canyon school building OK“The kids love the space and volunteered an entire Saturday to help shift, carry and organise our learning materials.
“Just knowing the world out there cares about their education is making a difference. It’s a joy to teach smiling children.”
PHOTOS from top (courtesy CLC): Student Vivienne Swan • Students perform a play for the opening day crowd • The new building.
UPDATE March 14 in response to readers’ comments.
The CLC says: “The press release is a joint press release, between the Watarrka Foundation and the CLC and has been approved by both organisations.
“The budget to construct the classroom that was given to the CLC by the Watarrka Foundation was for $320,000. Traditional owners, the Foundation and private donors contributed to this budget. The CLC have not received any documentation showing that it cost more than $320,000.
“The traditional owners have invested their income in a number of education initiatives since 2012.
“They have supported students to attend school outside of their community, as well as investing in services and infrastructure in community schools.
“Traditional owners develop their own funding priorities, they are not mandated by the government or its agencies such as the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory on how to spend their income.”


  1. The money that you mention being set aside from traditional owners’ rent money to put towards this building seems misleading.
    This portion of money is given to the traditional owners to put towards education. They have to spend it on educational purposes.
    I do think it’s great that they were given an idea as to where to put that money. I feel the way it’s written is misleading.
    Why is there no mention of crowd funding or kids raising money from NSW, Victoria, Perth or private schools from down south donating money for this building?
    The amount of money that was necessary for the building was more like $440,000 and not the $320,000 you say.
    This was an amazing achievement and something that was very much needed. I just hope the right people are thanked and shown the appreciation they deserve.
    A lot of good selfless people put a lot of money and time towards this project. Let’s not forget that and take away from that. Keeping kids on country is important.
    This is the local press release by land council. I do hope they get it right and put in the full story when it’s time to release it within their own newspaper.

  2. This is a great leap forward for the CLC’s community development program supporting the traditional owners with the classroom.
    We are all sure this is a great outcome for all of those involved from all over Australia who travelled so far for the opening.
    It would have been a bit quicker if this support had been there from the beginning and not now, used for one’s own propaganda at the end.
    It is for the children to use, let’s keep it that way.

  3. This story is just so wonderful. To learn that a secondary component has been added to the Watarrka School (formerly Lilla School when I had an attachment there – albeit brief – in the last half of the 90s) is beautiful music to the ears.
    Lilla School closed in early ’96 due to a very low enrolment figure.
    I was the teacher at Ukaka Homeland in the latter half of the 90s and it was originally under the umbrella of Lilla School.
    My daughter Jenny had been the principal of the two sites (about 100km apart). Ukaka battled on but it too succumbed to an unsustainable enrolment figure about a decade into the 2000s.
    That people, not the Education Department, got the Lilla site up and running again around about 2010 was tremendous news.
    This latest development speaks volumes for those who have had a hand in the revival of this educational site; which, incidentally, is such a beautiful cultural location.
    The quote from Mrs Sadie Williams, re this new secondary addition: “We have fought hard over many years for our primary shool to stay open so that our kids can get a good bilingual and bicultural education on country” is indeed a telling one.
    There has been no “grandstanding” by this mob in what they have achieved. It is obvious that they had a clear vision and with this new development it shows that it is a strong one. They thoroughly deserve all credit that can be mustered.
    I say, “go Watarrka School”. Not original but, “Onward and Upward”.

  4. @ Spot: What do you mean by it would have been a bit quicker if this support had been there from the beginning and not now?

  5. Alec: The reference about the right people getting credit were credit is due.
    For example, the people themselves for supporting and getting this school not only reopened but extended.
    [Credit should go to] the foundation, schools and fundraising done around Australia by many schools and the old guy getting around on crutches who had made this a personal commitment, to supporting the community by getting everyone in the room to achive something moving forward.
    So, yes, onward and upward.

  6. A bit of a shame that Reg from Remote Tours is not mentioned here very much. As Alec says, a lot of the donations come from private schools down south, and if these schools had not experienced Lila Community through cultural tours organised by Remote Tours, they would not have had the desire or knowlege to contribute.
    The Miss World / Miss Australia finalists also visited through Remote Tours and donated significant funds towards these facilities.
    Remote Tours is a one man show who has been helping this community for many many years and has helped organise healthy breakfasts for the kids attending school through the Yummo program.
    It is nice to see ths is being given the attention it deserves, but a shame that the coverage of this company is so low key.
    Also it’s a shame that more local schools don’t take advantage of a cultural education experience right in our own backyard.
    Rather it is the exclusive private schools that have switched on to this concept, and keep coming back to see how white and black, private and public can be a party to real understanding, cooperation and maybe reconciliation.


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