One of the most economically and socially disadvantaged communities in Australia
Lockhart River is a small and very remote Aboriginal community situated on the eastern coast of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula. It is the northernmost town on the east coast of Australia and is located approximately 800km north of Cairns. Lockhart River is accessed by a dirt road and the town often becomes only accessible by plane or boat in the wet season (December to May).
The town has a population of 695 and 90% of its residents are Aboriginal. It is one of the most economically and socially disadvantaged communities in Australia, with the town largely dependent on government and private funding for survival. Many of the residents are welfare dependent due to the lack of unskilled and semi-skilled available for locals; the town’s unemployment rate is more than three times the national average.
While the local school offers an alternative secondary program, most students must leave the community to attend high school in Cairns and other locations in Queensland. Many students do not complete Year 12 and the town has only one university graduate. 75% of their primary school students are hearing impaired, which impacts significantly on their learning.
Expanding outside Western Australia
Our Patron, the Honourable Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, is a Queensland native and she has always been keen for us to operate a site in her home state. She is also the Patron of the Puuya Foundation, which works to support and uplift the Lockhart River community. In 2014, Dame Quentin introduced us to Denise Hagan, the CEO of the Puuya Foundation and a relationship between us was formed. With the Puuya Foundation’s support we ran a successful pilot program at Lockhart State School in July 2015.
Lockhart State School (LSS) is a prep to Year 12 school with 120 enrolments. Their students are native speakers of the traditional language, Lockhart Language, and English is their second language. 97% of the school’s students are Aboriginal. Offerings at LSS include a broad curriculum focusing on literacy and numeracy, weekly cultural programs, an alternate secondary program to support the few students who do not attend boarding school and a strong behavioural philosophy based on respect.
A focus on early intervention
Unlike our other programs, our focus in Lockhart River is early intervention and the girls in Years 3-6 make up our target group. We also work with all students in pre-prep to Year 2, the town’s youth group and the mums and bubs group at the Kuunchi Kakana (families together) Centre.
We make four week-long visits to the school each year, with one visit organised per school term. A regular week in Lockhart River sees us undertaking at least 20 hours of program delivery and 6 hours of community engagement.
- Madison Calwyng-oz participant - Halls Creek District High School“When I grow up I want to be an English teacher. My experience singing in the big city for a famous choir has made me more confident, helped me learn to work with others. I also know now that the school and my mum will support me to do anything and go anywhere.”
- Darryl DedmanFormer Principal - Halls Creek District High School“The self-assurance and poise that result from the g-oz experience are revealed in students’ increasing willingness to speak and perform at our assemblies and, I believe, deliver enhanced prospects for employment, education and community involvement in the future.”
- Ren AbreuProgram Assistant - Shooting Stars“I like g-oz because it helped me build my confidence and helped me express myself as a young woman and now I use those skills that I developed with g-oz in my job for Shooting Stars”
- Emily Alecg-oz participant - Halls Creek District High School“When I first started Girls from Oz I was a really shy kid. When they came I started building my confidence and came out of my shell.”
- Kristyng-oz participant - Halls Creek District High School“Dancing and singing is fun, even my little sister now knows the moves and how to sing songs because I taught her. One girl came up to me and said ‘how can you sing and dance like that?’ I said it doesn’t matter I’m loving it and I’m not shame.”
- Duncan Ord OAMDirector General - Department of Culture and the Arts"The girls sang with great accomplishment and obvious joy that would have made their families so proud of them. Having met them after the show I was very impressed with their professional approach, warmth and comradeship. These are girls with bright futures and my congratulations go to all involved in the program.”