Thursday, December 3, 2009

Red Centre part one: Alcoota School

Before we came to Australia, someone gave us a bit of advice. When on exchange, they said, people will sometimes invite you to do things you may not initially feel like doing. Accept those invitations; say yes to everything.

It was great advice, and we heeded it while in Alice Springs. We were staying with Phil and Trina Kotzur, who teach at a school in Alcoota, about two hours drive out of Alice. On Sunday night, while getting ready to leave, they invited us to visit them at the school. We debated whether to go -- we were already way over the mileage limit on our rental car, and with only five days in the centre we wondered if we shouldn't use the day to do other things -- but in the end we said yes.

It was a real eye-opener, a chance to get a glimpse of life in an aboriginal community. The kids don't speak English when they come to school, so the school employs adults as teaching aids to sit in the classroom and translate if necessary. The school has a fairly high attendance rate, thanks partly to the efforts of one older man who is hired to walk to each home in the village every morning and collect the children (sort of like a school bus, but on foot). The school day begins with breakfast and tooth brushing, shoes are a rarity, and parental involvement is almost non-existent. When boys get to be about 15 or so, the older men will come and get them and take them off in the bush for a couple of months initiation, after which they are ready to get married. When Ana asked a group of teens what they do for fun, they said "hunt" -- kangaroo, echidna, goanna.

At the same time, you don't need to spend much time in the school to realize that kids are kids everywhere -- they mug for the camera, they giggle at the funny strangers, and they play silly when the teacher wants them to be serious. Basketball is popular, and AFL is even more so, with many of the kids sporting team shirts.

Going to the Red Centre was a highlight of our year in Australia, and going to Alcoota was a highlight of our trip to the Red Centre. Say yes to everything: good advice. Thanks Phil and Trina.

There are photos here.

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