The power of story-telling in the top end

Amanda and Ravidner in the Pre/Transition class, teaching young Numbulwar students' numeracy through play
The Story Writing in Remote Locations (SWiRL) program began in 1996 and was developed by former VU education lecturer Lawry Mahon.
Thursday 16 May 2024

For the last 28 years, groups of tertiary students, primarily from Victoria University (VU), have worked together, creating story books with students and teachers as part of the SWiRL program. 

The Story Writing in Remote Locations (SWiRL) program has been generously funded for the last two years by Anglicare NT as part of the East Arnhem Communities for Children initiative. SWiRL began in 1996 and was developed by former VU education lecturer Lawry Mahon. The unique initiative provides preservice teachers with a culturally immersive experience in remote and rural First Nation communities in the Northern Territory (NT).  

The current group of eight teaching students (five from VU, three from Federation University), along with academic support staff from both universities, will spend a month in Numbulwar working with local kids, school community, First Nation Elders, and First Nation support officers to co-create story books on local traditions and cultural events. 

Home to a small community of over six hundred residents, the remote town of Numbulwar is on the east coast of Arnhem Land, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, more than 400km east of Katherine.  

"This is the third year that the SWiRL Program has been delivered at Numbulwar School. We value the opportunity to share the trials, tribulations and treasures of remote living and working in First Nation communities,” Numbulwar School Acting Principal Hamish Pawlaczyk said. 

The visiting preservice teachers also develop skills in the areas of First Nation knowledges and First Nation ways of being in the world, along with the importance of understanding a need to develop teaching and learning approaches that are culturally sensitive and respectful of First Nation standpoints and worldviews.  

The stories that First Nation students write about are based on their lived experiences that are reflective of a deep connection to land, Country, and cultural traditions. The SWiRL Program is committed to teaching and learning approaches that support and engage First Nation communities in culturally appropriate ways. 

“The SWiRL Program is not only innovative, but it also enhances preservice teachers’ knowledge of First Nation standpoints and First Nation cultural traditions in remote communities. The program seeks to critique, question and interrogate the impact of colonisation on First Nation communities and their land,” SWiRL Program Co-ordinator VU’s Associate Professor Marcelle Cacciattolo said.  

Associate Professor Amanda McGraw, Coordinator of the Master of Teaching (Secondary) Program at Federation University, said the opportunity to partner with VU in the delivery of the SWiRL program offers preservice teachers a “rare and significant experience.”  

Only days into the month-long experience, VU student Bree Tomsett said, “Participating in the program has given me a greater appreciation for working alongside First Nation communities, in remote and regional territories, in culturally respectful ways.”