Centring Anangu voices on work: A contextualised response to red dirt thinking


  • Samuel Osborne University of South Australia
  • John Guenther Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education
  • Sandra Ken
  • Lorraine King
  • Karina Lester University of Adelaide




remote, Aboriginal, education, aspirations, employment


Nyangatjatjara College is an independent Aboriginal school distributed across three campuses in the southern region of the Northern Territory. Since 2011, the College has conducted student and community surveys to obtain feedback regarding students’ educational experiences and their future aspirations. In 2016 Nyangatjatjara College funded a research project, Centring Anangu voices in Anangu education, to look more closely at Anangu educational aspirations to inform the development of a five-year strategic plan. Among other activities, interviewers conducted surveys by listening carefully to Anangu school students and community through sharing first-language narratives. This paper focuses on the most commonly discussed aspiration of students, their families and communities, namely, that school should enable young people to get a job. This finding parallels other research findings (Guenther et al., 2015) and the philosophical underpinnings of “red dirt thinking” on aspiration and success (Osborne & Guenther, 2013). Our examination of the data suggests that the theme of “work” is intertwined with aspects of the local community context. The paper concludes with an analysis of existing school-to-work transitions and opportunities, with suggestions for strengthening local participation in employment initiatives across the tri-state region at the intersection of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia.


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Author Biographies

Samuel Osborne, University of South Australia

Sam Osborne is the Associate Director, Regional Engagement (APY Lands) at UniSA. He has worked in Aboriginal education since 1995 in roles including teaching language, remote school principal and research. He currently coordinates Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara language programs at UniSA and has a research role in a range of projects including Culturally Responsive Pedagogies, Water Literacies and Pedagogies for Justice. A focus of his work is to privilege Aboriginal languages, knowledges and voices in research relating to Aboriginal education. He worked on the Remote Education Systems project within the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) from 2011-2015.

John Guenther, Batchelor Institute for Indigenous Tertiary Education

John Guenther is a researcher with 20 years’ experience working in overlapping fields of social inquiry, typically in areas related to education and training, and its intersections with mental health and wellbeing, justice, employment, child protection and welfare. In the last 10 years he has more intentionally focused on issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote parts of Australia. He led the Remote Education Systems project under the CRC for Remote Economic Participation (2011–2016) and is currently the Research Leader for Education and Training with the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, based in Darwin, Northern Territory. John is a leading academic in the field of remote education and has published widely on his findings, often under the banner of “red dirt thinking”.

Sandra Ken

Sandra Ken was a foundation teacher at Amata Anangu School from 1968 and is an experienced and respected educator, linguist and translator. She is currently retired but continues to work in teaching and translating Pitjantjatjara language with Iwiri Aboriginal Corporation.

Lorraine King

Lorraine King is a Pintupi Luritja woman with interpreting skills across five central Australian languages. Lorraine has worked in the arts, housing and many other areas. Lorraine has worked in various research projects since 2011 and continues a focus on a first-language narrative methodology.

Karina Lester, University of Adelaide

Karina Lester is a Yankunytjatjara woman who grew up in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in the far north-west of South Australia. Karina is the Aboriginal Co-Manager and Senior Language Worker at the University of Adelaide’s Mobile Language Team. Karina is in high demand for her skills in interpreting and facilitation, and is passionate about maintaining and strengthening Aboriginal languages across South Australia.


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How to Cite

Osborne, S., Guenther, J., Ken, S., King, L., & Lester, K. (2022). Centring Anangu voices on work: A contextualised response to red dirt thinking. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 51(2). https://doi.org/10.55146/ajie.v51i2.37




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