Indigenous Literacy Project a success

A field trip to the Jawoyn region of the Northern Territory by representatives of the bookselling and publishing industry has highlighted both the positive benefits of the trade’s Indigenous Literacy Day fundraising activities, and the challenges facing those working to improve literacy in the region.

uzy Wilson, owner of Riverbend Books and founder of the Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP), said the trip was a chance to see how some of the funds raised by the industry had been used–and to note the changes since inital ILP visits to the region..

‘Visiting the new school at Wugularr was a particularly profound moment,’ she told WBN. ‘The beautiful new library that was accessible to the community as well as the school was a lovely space filled with books, many of which were supplied by our project. The old school had very few books and no library. It was exciting to see that many classrooms now have beautiful book displays; and the presence and access to books in the school has markedly increased.’

Wilson was joined on the fact-finding trip by industry representatives including Penguin CEO Gabrielle Coyne and general manager, education, sales and marketing Kristen Gill; Allen & Unwin director Peter Eichhorn and children’s book director Liz Bray; Robyn Huppert of the Australian Booksellers Association; Gleebooks co-owner and ILP chair David Gaunt; and ILP ambassadors Andy Griffiths and Tara June Winch (pictured, with students in the Wugularr school library).

As well as the new school at Wugalarr, where Griffiths read to students from The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow, the group visited the also relatively new school at Manyallaluk, where Winch supplied sea shells, paints and paper butterflies for students to use in illustrating the story she read to them.

The group also visited the library at Burunga, which is available both to students and the wider community. ‘Discussions were made later in the trip about how we could build upon and provide even richer input during these field trips,’ said Wilson. ‘Andy Griffiths and others had some terrific suggestions about story-writing workshops which will be followed up on in coming months.’

The challenge of continuity
While the brand new school and library at Wugalarr was an impressive development, the fact that five of the seven teachers on staff had been at the school for only two weeks clearly demonstrated to the group the challenges of providing continuity of education in remote communities.

‘The issues of continuity were seen as being one of the most significant for everyone in the community to face–continuity of staff, continuity of learning, in particular “reading support” between home and school, and sustained and continuous health care support,’ said Wilson. ‘The Project could see that there were a number of small things we could do to support the extraordinary souls who take on the challenge of working in these remote areas.’

As well as highlighting the challenges of improving literacy in these communities, the field trip emphasised the importance of providing support. ‘For instance the Indigenous principal of Barunga School, Anita Camfoo described for us the huge delight felt by the community when five children in the school–with an enrolment of seventy eight–reached the literacy bench mark last year,’ said Wilson. ‘Anita’s statement inspired much discussion amongst the group. While recognising the sense of achievement that the school felt from this result it only highlighted for us the differing expectations regarding literacy success in remote communities.  We discussed strategies of support that could be used to help raise the numbers of children reaching the benchmark.’

Plans for 3 September–Indigenous Literacy Day
This year’s Indigenous Literacy Day, when participating booksellers and publishers will donate a percentage of their earnings to the project, will take place on Wednesday 3 September.

Events planned on or near the day include:

In Sydney, Josh Pyke, Tara June Winch, Jacquie Harvey, Gabi Hollows and Libby Gleeson will present a memorable hour of music and storytelling to a school audience hosted by Sydney Grammar on the morning of September 3; Wesley Enoch, Tara June Winch, Julianne Schultz and performing artists will be special guests at an ILP/PEN evening at the State Library of NSW on the evening of September 3.

Sally Morgan and May O’Brien will be special guests at a storytelling event for schools at the State Library of Western Australia; The University of WA will present a special evening panel featuring Indigenous writers and storytellers.

Uni of Adelaide will host a special fundraising event involving book readings and performances.

The Fred Hollows Foundation is organising a special event with Indigenous writers, musicians and performers in Darwin;  ILD Ambassador Anita Heiss will be in Alice Springs for a keynote address on literacy and also for media interviews.

Alexis Wright, John Marsden, Arnold Zable will be key guests at the Victorian State Library in a special panel organised through the Victorian Writers’ Centre on the evening of September 3; A special launch event will be held at Readers Feast on morning of September 3; Paul Jennings and Kaz Cooke will be key guests at a Victorian schools event organised at Ivanhoe College.

The State Library of Queensland is holding daytime storytellling and an evening panel to celebrate the day.

Kate Grenville will give a keynote address in Canberra at the National Library of Australia on the evening of September 3.
For more information on events, or how to become involved, visit

Published by

Clayton Wehner

Clayton is the founder and managing director of Boomerang Books. In a past life, Clayton worked for 12 years as an intelligence officer in the Australian Army and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy and the Royal Military College Duntroon and holds a BA (Hons) in Political Science and a Master of Management Studies (Human Resource Management) from the UNSW. He is also a trained Indonesian linguist and served with the United Nations in East Timor as an interpreter/translator.