Tales from the Top End

For more than two decades, Victoria University Bachelor of Education students have packed their backpacks and headed to remote, Indigenous communities to experience a life-changing journey.

Story Writing in Remote Locations (SWiRL) is an award-winning program started by Lawry Mahon, former Victoria University lecturer, now Honorary Fellow at VU. 

SWiRL is now also an engaging and candid documentary made by Sarah Tartakover from VU's College of Arts & Education. The forty-minute film gives audiences a look at how the VU students immerse themselves in the remote communities, learn from local elders and work with Indigenous children and teachers.

Back in 1996, it was the stars the led Lawry to head up north. “I was interested in astronomy and a friend invited me up to Atitjere, about 250ks north-east of Alice Springs.” During that trip he noticed that the local Indigenous children were reading exactly the same picture books his own kids were reading back in Melbourne.

“Kids weren’t seeing their lives or their experiences reflected in these books, and I thought that needed to change.”

Visiting VU students encourage local children to capture their own lived experiences on the page and in their own language, along with promoting literacy and numeracy skills. Stories range from crushing ochre and rock painting and making bush medicine to what $5 will buy you at the local shop. The children keep one copy of the book, and another copy is put in the school library. 

Over the last two decades, hundreds of students have returned from their month long trip feeling changed by the experience.

“SWiRL has a big impact on the students. Some of them assume they are the ones who are going to do the teaching, but inevitably, the students return with a real sense of personal growth. It’s also a great opportunity to engage with the issue of race and reconciliation on a much deeper level.”

VU graduate Megan Evans was named Teacher of the Year in 2007 and she continues to engage her current school with her local Indigenous community. Five former SWiRLers have been nominated for Teacher of the Year awards in the Northern Territory.

In late October, the next group of would-be SWiRLers will be packing their backpacks for their own life changing experience.

SWiRL free screening

On Tuesday, 20 June, Victoria University will hold a special screening of SWiRL: Story Writing in Remote Locations for students, staff and friends of VU.

Where: Footscray Park Campus, Building L, Room L114
When: 3-4.15pm

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