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.
- 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.”
- Melany Beardmoreg-oz participant - Halls Creek District High School“I have really enjoyed g-oz coming to Halls Creek because they’re giving us the chance to shine, not be shame and to learn different songs and dances. I have enjoyed being part of the g-oz group because it has helped me to be a stronger person inside.”
- Di TomazosFormer Deputy Principal - Halls Creek District High School"The girls’ family histories (stories passed down) and their first hand experiences had often led them to believe they would not be fully accepted by non-Aboriginal families. Without exception their experiences of the billeting process has been overwhelmingly positive. So good for everyone!”
- 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”
- Michelle EllisParent of g-oz participant“It gives them a lot of confidence, it encourages them to be more than what they are and makes them feel they are capable of anything.”
- Justine WiltshireParent of g-oz participant - Halls Creek“Since you have started to come to HCDHS the girls have grown in confidence and belief in themselves. This experience has opened their eyes to the future and that dreams have given life in their hearts that they aren’t limited by where they live, but dreams can become a reality."