Connections, community and context: The importance of post-boarding school pathways and re-engagement for remote Aboriginal students


  • Tessa Benveniste CQUniversity
  • John Guenther Batchelor Institute
  • Lorraine King CQUniversity
  • Drew Dawson CQUniversity



Aboriginal, boarding school, residential college, post-schooling, remote community


For many remote Aboriginal Australian students, periods of time during their secondary education are spent living away from home at a boarding school. While financial, political and community support is burgeoning for boarding models that provide scholarships, sports programs or accommodation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, very little academic research or evidence exists that examines the experiences of students post-boarding. This paper forms part of a broader doctoral research study, but specifically focuses on how past students, families and communities from remote South Australia view the outcomes of boarding. Using a Grounded theory design, thematic analysis of 32 semi-structured interviews with past students, families and community members led to the identification of three main themes: connections (early exits), community (re-engaging in education), and context (employment in remote communities).  Findings indicated that outcomes are not linear nor easily defined. Developing a theory of change was recommended as a future approach to help families, students and remote schools to clearly define goals and measures of success for each student, recognising a range of interpretations and conceptions of ‘success’, and adapting these goals as necessary.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Tessa Benveniste, CQUniversity

Tessa Benveniste is a Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Central Queensland University. Her research projects across South Australia and Queensland have largely involved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and boarding schools they attend. Tessa applies a holistic approach to health and wellbeing and grounds her work in the context and views of participants.

John Guenther, Batchelor Institute

John Guenther is currently the Research Leader, Education and Training, for Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education, based in Darwin. His work focuses on learning contexts, theory and practice, and policies as they connect with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Lorraine King, CQUniversity

Lorraine King is a Senior Aboriginal Community Researcher, born and raised in Papunya community 240 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. She identifies as a Pintupi-Luritja Warlpiri woman, and was raised by her grandmother, spending most of her childhood between Papunya and her grandfather’s homeland (Central Mount Wedge) on Warlpiri Country. She is a qualified interpreter in Pitjantjatjara, Luritja-Pintupi and Warlpiri languages.

Drew Dawson, CQUniversity

Drew Dawson is the Director of Research and Development/Engaged Research Chair at CQUniversity. He has worked in a variety of areas over the last three decades. Drew has a long-standing interest in social innovation and has worked with Indigenous communities in the area of community and social enterprise development with a particular interest on liminal economic spaces between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.


Abbott-Chapman, J. (2011). Making the most of the mosaic: Facilitating post-school transitions to higher education of disadvantaged students. The Australian Educational Researcher, 38(1), 57–71. doi: 10.1007/s13384-010-0001-9 DOI:

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2016). Remoteness structure: Australian Bureeau of Statistics.

Australian Government. (2014). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health performance framework 2014 report.

Bainbridge, R., Whiteside, M., & McCalman, J. (2013). Being, knowing, and doing: A phronetic approach to constructing grounded theory with Aboriginal Australian partners. Qualitative Health Research, 23(2), 275–288. doi: 10.1177/1049732312467853 DOI:

Benveniste, T., Dawson, D., Guenther, J., Rainbird, S., & King, L. (2016, Nov 27-Dec 1). Parent perspectives on boarding: Insights from remote Aboriginal families [Paper presentation]. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Melbourne.

Benveniste, T., Dawson, D., & Rainbird, S. (2015). The role of the residence: Exploring the goals of an Aboriginal residential program in contributing to the education and development of remote students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 44(2), 163–172. doi: 10.1017/jie.2015.19 DOI:

Benveniste, T., Guenther, J., Dawson, D., & Rainbird, S. (2014, Nov 30-Dec 4). Out of sight, out of mind? Bringing Indigenous Australian parent–boarding school communication to light [Paper presentation]. Joint Australian Association for Research in Education and New Zealand Association for Research in Education Conference, Brisbane.

Benveniste, T., Guenther, J., Rainbird, S., & Dawson, D. (2016). Dechiphering distance: Exploring how Indigenous boarding schools facilitate and maintain relationships with remote families and communities [Paper presentation]. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Fremantle.

Biddle, N., & Prout, S. (2010). The geography and demography of Indigenous temporary mobility: An analysis of the 2006 census snapshot. Journal of Population Research, 26(4). doi: 10.1007/s12546-010-9026-1 DOI:

Boden, J. M., Sanders, J., Munford, R., Liebenberg, L., & McLeod, G. F. H. (2016). Paths to positive development: A model of outcomes in the New Zealand youth transitions study. Child Indicators Research, 9(4), 889–911. doi: 10.1007/s12187-015-9341-3 DOI:

Commonwealth of Australia. (2018). Closing the gap: Prime minister’s report 2018. Australian Government, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Connell, J., & Klem, A. (2000). You can get there from here: Using a theory of change approach to plan urban education reform. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 11(1), 93–120. doi: 10.1207/s1532768Xjepc1101_06 DOI:

Curto, V. E., & Fryer, R. G. (2014). The potential of urban boarding schools for the poor: Evidence from SEED. Journal of Labor Economics, 32(1), 65–93. DOI:

Denzin, N. K. (2010). Grounded and Indigenous theories and the politics of pragmatism. Sociological Inquiry, 80(2), 296–312. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2010.00332.x DOI:

Dockery, A. M. (2010). Culture and wellbeing: The case of Indigenous Australians. Social Indicators Research, 99(2), 315–332. doi: 10.2307/40927594

Dudgeon, P., Mallard, D., Oxenham, D., & Fielder, J. (2002). Contemporary Aboriginal perceptions of community. In A. Fisher, C. Sonn, & B. Bishop (Eds.), Psychological sense of community: Research, applications and implications (pp. 247–267). Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Engward, H., & Davis, G. (2015). Being reflexive in qualitative grounded theory: Discussion and application of a model of reflexivity. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 71(7), 1530–1538. DOI:

Evans-Campbell, T., Walters, K. L., Pearson, C. R., & Campbell, C. D. (2012). Indian boarding school experience, substance use, and mental health among urban Two-Spirit American Indian/Alaska Natives. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 38(5), 421–427. DOI:

Funnell, R. (2008). Finding what doesn’t fit: Adjusting the focus on education in country towns as a limiting case for the learning or earning years. The Australian Educational Researcher, 35(2), 107–122. DOI:

Goodrick, D., Allen, J., Trafford, E., Dobson, J., Hart, T., McLachlan, T., Magro, R., & Sayers, C. (2012). Positive pathways for young people in remote communities: What works? Australian Government, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

Guenther, J., & McRae-Williams, E. (2014, April 22-24). Does education and training for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders lead to “real” jobs? Evidence from the 2011 Census [Paper presentation]. AVETRA 17th Annual Conference, Surfer’s Paradise.

Guenther, J., Milgate, G., Perrett, B., Benveniste, T., Osborne, S., & Disbray, S. (2016, Nov 27-Dec 1). Boarding schools for remote secondary Aboriginal learners in the Northern Territory. Smooth transition or rough ride? [Paper presentation]. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Melbourne.

Guenther, J., Osborne, S., Arnott, A., & McRae-Williams, E. (2017). Hearing the voice of remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander training stakeholders using research methodologies and theoretical frames of reference. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(2), 197-208. DOI:

Hodges, J., Sheffield, J., & Ralph, A. (2013). Home away from home? Boarding in Australian schools. Australian Journal of Education, 57(1), 32–47. doi: 10.1177/0004944112472789 DOI:

Hodges, J., Sheffield, J., & Ralph, A. (2016). Staff and boarders perspectives of the boarding environment. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 25(4), 1045–1056. doi: 10.1007/s10826-015-0287-3 DOI:

Huberman, M. A., & Miles, M. B. (1994). Data management and analysis methods. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 209–219). Sage.

James, R. (2001). Participation disadvantage in Australian higher education: An analysis of some effects of geographical location and socioeconomic status. Higher Education, 42, 455–472. DOI:

Liamputtong, P. (2010). Cross-cultural research and qualitative inquiry. Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, 1(1), 16–29.

Mander, D. (2012). The transition experience to boarding school for male Aboriginal secondary school students from regional and remote communities across Western Australia [Doctoral thesis]. Edith Cowan University, Australia.

Mander, D., Cohen, L., & Pooley, J. A. (2015). A critical exploration of staff perceptions of Aboriginal boarding students’ experiences. Australian Journal of Education, 59(3), 312–328. doi: 10.1177/0004944115607538 DOI:

Martin, A. J., Papworth, B., Ginns, P., & Liem, G. (2014). Boarding school, academic motivation and engagement, and psychological wellbeing: A large-scale investigation. American Educational Research Journal, 51(5), 1007-1049. doi: 10.3102/0002831214532164 DOI:

McNamara, B., Banks, E., Gubhaju, L., Williamson, A., Joshy, G., Raphael, B., & Eades, S. (2014). Measuring psychological distress in older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians: A comparison of the K‐10 and K‐5. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 28(6), 567–573. DOI:

Mission Australia. (2016). National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth report.

O’Bryan, M. (2015). Compelled to innovate: Facilitating partnerships in cross-cultural education. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 4(1), 1–22.

Papworth, B. A. (2014). Attending boarding school: A longitudinal study of its role in students’ academic and non-academic outcomes [Doctoral thesis]. University of Sydney. doi: 10.13140/2.1.4450.1283

Parkes, A., McRae-Williams, E., & Tedmanson, D. (2014). Dreams and aspirations of mobile young Aboriginal Australian people. Journal of Youth Studies, 18(6). doi: 10.1080/13676261.2014.992314 DOI:

Prout Quicke, S., & Biddle, N. (2017). School (non-)attendance and “mobile cultures”: Theoretical and empirical insights from Indigenous Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 57–71. doi: 10.1080/13613324.2016.1150831 DOI:

Redman-MacLaren, M. L., Klieve, H., Mccalman, J., Russo, S., Rutherford, K., Wenitong, M., & Bainbridge, R. G. (2017). Measuring resilience and risk factors for the psychosocial wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander boarding school students: Pilot baseline study results. Frontiers in Education, 2, 1–10. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2017.00005 DOI:

Russell-Mundine, G. (2012). Reflexivity in Indigenous research: Reframing and decolonising research? Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 19(1), 85–90.

Schaverien, J. (2004). Boarding school: The trauma of the “privileged” child. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 49(5), 683–705. doi: 10.1111/j.0021-8774.2004.00495.x DOI:

Schwab, J. (1998). Educational “failure” and educational “success” in an Aboriginal community: Discussion paper no. 161/1998. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.

Smith, A. (2009). Indigenous peoples and boarding schools: A comparitive study. United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Sorin, R., & Iloste, R. (2006). Moving schools: Antecedents, impact on students and interventions. Australian Journal of Education, 50(3), 227-241. DOI:

Stewart, R. (2015). Transition from remote Indigenous community to boarding school: The Lockhart River Experience. UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Journal in the Arts, 4(1).

Wilson, B. (2014). A share in the future: Review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory. The Education Business.

Zubrick, S. R., Dudgeon, P., Gee, G., Glaskin, B., Kelly, K., Paradies, Y., Scrine, C., & Walker, R. (2010). Social determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing. In N. Purdie, P. Dudgeon, & R. Walker (Eds.), Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing principles and practice (1st ed., pp. 75–90). Australian Government, Department of Health and Aging.




How to Cite

Benveniste, T., Guenther, J., King, L., & Dawson, D. (2022). Connections, community and context: The importance of post-boarding school pathways and re-engagement for remote Aboriginal students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 51(1).




Most read articles by the same author(s)

1 2 3 > >>