In 2020 Mr Phillip Heath accepted the opportunity to join with the Board of the Yothu Yindi Foundation to discuss the creation of a primary school to be called Dhupuma Barker, in the community of Gunyangara, near Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land.
The word “dhupuma” means “looking up to the future” to Yolŋu people. It connotes opportunity and potential. It also brings up memories for the community of Dhupuma College, a secondary boarding school that thrived from 1972-1980 in this part of remote Australia. When it was suddenly closed by the NT Government, its students were left desperately sad. The graduates of Dhupuma College later became leaders of their communities and created the acclaimed 1990s rock band, Yothu Yindi, which introduced traditional words from Yolŋu Matha (language) into rock songs that hit the charts throughout the world. The same spirit of creative enterprise some years later established the world renowned Garma Festival, which draws together people from around Australia and beyond who seek to develop a closer sense of reconciliation by understanding traditional culture and identity. In 2019 Mr Heath addressed the Garma Festival as part of an education forum. It was there that he met several leaders from the Yolŋu community who had heard about Barker's work with Darkinjung and Ngarralingayil. We shared a similar spirit and hope.
The elders of the Yolŋu community yearn to see the ideals behind Dhupuma College rise again, forty years after it was closed. They want their own children and grandchildren to experience two-way learning. Dhupuma Barker will be the first stage in their plans to enable their young people to be educated from pre-school to university, on Country, in language, and with traditional knowledge at the heart. We are humbled and thrilled that the YYF have honoured Barker College by forging a partnership (MOU) to make Dhupuma happen.
During a recent visit, Mr Heath and several Barker colleagues met with the YYF Board, the Gumatj Corporation leaders and the Gunyangara community. They looked at the existing school buildings and planned the work that will need to be done to be ready to open by April (Term 2) 2021. Darkinjung Barker teacher, Tom Spencer, will take on the responsibility of being the first Barker teacher to work at Dhupuma Barker and work with the Yolŋu teachers and the community to develop an approach to learning that wraps Yolŋu knowledge around the Australian Curriculum. He will move to Gunyangara with his family in the coming weeks.
The funds needed to develop this work come from the kindness of people who share the same spirit of hope and reconciliation. Just as our work at Yarramalong and Wollombi does NOT draw from Barker funds provided by parent fees, the School seeks to raise the resources from elsewhere to realise the big vision of reconciliation in Australia by participating in education, one life at a time.