Northern Territory Reflection

April 29, 2021

Northern Territory Reflection

by Director of Students, Mr Mike Silcock and Deputy Principal, Mrs Elizabeth Ryan

So much was lost in 2020, as the world was gripped by the COVID pandemic, but from the perspective of our Indigenous program, this was perhaps felt most significantly by our inability to travel north. In 2018, we commenced a journey, figuratively and literally, to be more present for our remote families and their respective communities. Ours is a relational ‘business’ and the ability to be in community with our young men’s’ families and elders has been critical in providing the support for our remote students when they have travelled ‘south’ for their education. Trust is of paramount importance and we saw this in 2020, when, during the second period of remote learning, our remote students remained in our Boarding ‘bubble’ and did so with their families reassured, by a College they trust, that they were safe.

The respect and trust earnt is not just generated by our presence, it is by who is making these journeys. For Mrs Elizabeth Ryan, our Deputy Principal, and (later this year), Mr Steven O’Connor, our Principal, to make this journey sends a message of deep respect and commitment to our Indigenous program and the communities we visit. I would personally thank Elizabeth for her company, expertise and support. For those who have travelled in the Territory would know that there is (as such) as ‘Territory time’, which reflects a lifestyle that is unique, that captures the very soul of the Northern Territory and requires a high degree of flexibility, patience and good grace. Elizabeth continues to be a sound anchor to me on these trips and I look forward to travelling with our new Principal, on his first visit, later this year.

Our journeys are only made possible by the warm generosity of those we visit – whether it be our young men’s’ families, the schools that have nurtured and educated these young men for many years, the various support agencies, critical in the transition to an education ‘down south’ or communities that we visit for the first time, where friendships are formed and crucial relationships built. The Northern Territory Government remains reluctant to ‘outsiders’ visiting many of the more remote communities – permission can only be granted by the local elders – so it is affirming and speaks volumes to the relationships we have built, that permission was granted and again we are incredibly grateful to all.

This was the first time we had travelled in March/April, at the end of the wet season, and our initial travel plans were interrupted by the weather, as they were during the visit. The week we are in the NT is carefully prepared and ensures each day is maximised to its fullest. After an uneventful (although sparse) departure from Melbourne, we established ourselves in Darwin and were able to host our annual dinner at the Yacht Club, a special occasion to spend quality time with the families of our Darwin students. The sunset never fails to disappoint and sets the tone on a wonderful evening. We were also to meet with a number of potential students, at which (quite simply) we are able to learn more about the young men eager to travel south and for them to learn about us. These are the first steps in the relational journey and when conducted ‘at home’, we have learnt creates a more open and honest relationship.

It is always a privilege to be the guests of Tiwi College. A short chartered flight from Darwin to Pika, over some of the most beautiful scenery, before ‘a day in the life’ experience, combined with connecting with our growing number of Tiwi students’ families, places our time in Tiwi as some of the most special on our week away. On this occasion, poor weather afforded us the luxury of a night on Tiwi and Elizabeth and I are indebted to the hospitality of our hosts. Whilst on Tiwi we were treated to a performance of ‘Seasons of the Tiwis’, written and performed by Tiwi locals and students of the College. We would encourage you all to access YouTube and watch it – it shows Tiwi in all its splendour. It brings goosebumps to us each time it is viewed.

Our extended time on Tiwi meant that we were not able to accept an invitation to visit the Daly River community, but this will be rectified on our next visit. Our final visit up north was to our friends and colleagues at the TSU (Transition Support Unit) in Darwin. The team are always so generous with their time and sharing their expertise. The support, especially last year, that the TSU, both in Darwin and Alice, gave our remote students during the first lockdown period was just key in providing a continuity of learning. Every trip we make is a journey of learning and we never fail to leave the TSU without something to bring back to our provision of care here at St Patrick’s.

Heading south to Alice, gave us the opportunity to again visit our good friends and families of Ali Curung. The warmth of the invitation, led by the local Principal (Colin Kiel) and the elders of the community, is very special and we enjoyed the opportunity to meet our current families (and students), potential students and the exceptional educational work being done by the school, which on this visit included an agricultural provision, created to provide the local students more options as they transition from school into their futures.

It would be impossible for a brief reflection to capture the full value of our time in the Territory, however we hope that this does that and shares with you the beauty of an aspect of our College and all that our remote families and students bring to the lives of all our community.

Mr Mike Silcock and Mrs Elizabeth Ryan.

April 2021.