“Gäwa Christian School: a ‘best of both worlds’ multidisciplinary history”

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Presenter:  Ben Van Gelderen

Date: Nov 03, 2017

Time: 10:00am to 11:00am

Contact person:  Northern Institute
T: 8946 7468
E: thenortherninstitute@cdu.edu.au

Location:  Northern Institute, Savanna Room (Yellow 1.2.48)

Confirmation of Candidature - PhD by Research


The narrative around establishing Gäwa community (an Indigenous homeland at the northern tip of Elcho Island, northeast Arnhem Land) is impressive. It is a very practical story of vision and resilience; cutting roads, sleeping on the beach, digging bores, hunting for food and building permanent housing and a school. It is also an inspiring story of post-colonial resistance to the centralisation of Indigenous communities and homogenisation of Indigenous languages and culture. However, at a deeper level, it is the story of Warramiri making partnerships with various influences and bodies (and within their own Yolŋu clan connections) to retain their priorities. It is the latest manifestation in a much longer history of assimilating ‘outside’ influences and incorporating them into a newly defined, but ever-old Warramiri identity. In an ironic twist, Warramiri Yolŋu have truly been assimilating the best of ‘outside’ cultures (government educationalists, missionaries, Macassans, and even older vistors) for generations, to genuinely provide the ‘best of both worlds’ for their kin. The current research aims to highlight and analyse this long history and ontological approach, whilst partnering with the Gäwa community to develop the Warramiri website to facilitate the intergenerational transmission of language and culture.


Ben van Gelderen is a Lecturer in Education; Co-ordinator of the Growing Our Own project at CDU. This innovative program is a joint partnership with the Catholic Education Office Northern Territory for remote, Indigenous Initial Teacher Education (ITE).

Ben began working life in the legal field but much preferred passing on his love of literature and language to high school students. He has worked as an English teacher, Chaplain, Teacher/Linguist, EAL/D consultant and Curriculum Advisor in Independent and Catholic schools across NSW and NT.


Principal Rolf Gerritsen, Ben Zeng, Catherine Hull, Lou Wilson