Tennant Creek High School

Our school

Tennant Creek High School is a Northern Territory government school catering for students from Years 7 to 12. The population of the school is about 200 students of whom approximately half are Indigenous.

Tennant Creek

Tennant Creek is located approximately 1,000 kilometres south of Darwin and 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs. Tennant Creek was established as a mining town in the 1930s during Australia's 'last gold rush'. Tennant Creek is no longer solely a mining town; tourism, the Adelaide to Darwin railway, government services and the pastoral industry, as well as renewed mining, are pivots of the local economy. The population tends to be transient like many other parts of the Northern Territory. Many people come on short-term contracts or spend only one or two years before 'heading back down south'. This results in only a few extended family networks existing in the town.

Despite the isolation of distance, Tennant Creek offers a complete range of services and facilities to the population of the Barkly Region.

Contact details
Tennant Creek High School
Stuart Street
Tennant Creek NT 0860

Program overview

Indigenous Studies and Current Affairs

This program included both Indigenous Studies and Current Affairs. This combination was created because of the structure of the timetable of lessons. Both Indigenous Studies and Current Affairs were allocated one lesson a week and one followed another in the timetable. They were combined as a double lesson slot on the timetable.

The topics covered in the Indigenous Studies and Current Affairs program were:

  • the Indigenous experience in Australia and overseas;
  • government policies;
  • cultural identity;
  • Indigenous biography;
  • current affairs.

The program was developed for Year 8 and 9 classes; however, elements of the unit were trialled with students from other years.

The program ran for a semester of 20 weeks with two 50-minute lessons per week.

The rationale for the program was to:

  • expose students to the major contemporary issues involving Indigenous peoples both in Australia and overseas;
  • foster analytical thinking, which examines information for accuracy, relevance, reliability, bias, racism and paternalism;
  • provide greater understanding of Indigenous culture, history and concerns, which will work towards the reconciliation process;
  • allow Indigenous students an opportunity to use prior knowledge and skills to gain achievement and feel valued within the school context.

Students examined and questioned current events from a political, social and moral stance. The media and the presentation of events were discussed.

Discovering Democracy resources

A range of Discovering Democracy materials were used to develop and implement the program. See Discovering Democracy Resources.

Key learning areas

The key learning areas covered by this unit were SOSE and English.

The students

There was a total of 62 students of mixed ability ranging from Key Growth Point 3 (early primary) to Band 5. Approximately 50 per cent of the students had ESL needs or required some modifications to the curriculum. There were three teacher assistants (one special education assistant and two teaching assistants) available for some of the lessons. The students can be categorised as being from one of the following groups:

  • Indigenous urban using Standard Australian English (SAE);
  • Indigenous urban with some English as a Second Language (ESL) needs at all phases;
  • Indigenous remote ESL at all phases;
  • non-Indigenous family employed (professional/semi-professional);
  • non-Indigenous welfare recipients/unskilled.

Among the group there were significant numbers of blended families, one-parent families and students residing with relatives other than parents or guardians.

Learning needs

This program was designed to address a lack of understanding on the part of non-Indigenous Australians towards Indigenous Australians and to show Indigenous Australians that their situation is not necessarily unique and that they share similar experiences with other Indigenous peoples. The program endeavoured to foster empathy and reconciliation.

Learning outcomes

Social Systems and Structures

    Soc 3.2 Indigenous Studies  

  • explain what they have learned about core beliefs of urban and non-urban Indigenous peoples, and apply the principles of reconciliation to take action to counter prejudice

          Soc 4.2 Indigenous Studies  

  • analyse their own cultural practices in comparison to the histories and current experiences of all Indigenous groups, and actively contribute towards reconciliation

EsseNTial Learnings

Inner Learner: In 6 Explains how the past, present and future contribute to their own identity and broader life directions.
Collaborative Learner: Col 2 Uses constructive strategies to resolve conflict.
Constructive Learner: Con 1 Accesses information and tools from appropriate sources, analyses these and applies the most relevant aspects to optimise results.
Constructive Learner: Con 3 Participates in efforts to value diversity and social responsibility through active and informed involvement in chosen areas within their family and community.
Constructive Learner: Con 4 Identifies environmental and social issues within the local and global community and takes steps to promote change.

English as a Second Language

Socio-cultural Understandings: S L3.2 Uses aspects of spoken SAE language behaviour when communicating and learning at school.

Program outline

See Program Outline.

Developing the program

This program developed from an existing Language and Culture program operated by Papulu Apparr-Kari Language Centre. We wished to provide a greater coverage of historical and social issues relating to Indigenous peoples rather than just a program that dealt with arts and craft. This was also necessary for the implementation of the Northern Territory Curriculum Framework. This decision was taken in December 2002 and it was decided to create a 20-week program of one lesson per week.


See Assessment.

Key achievements

The key achievements of this program were:

  • the development of an awareness of early European and Indigenous contact history;
  • the 'discovery' by students of the Myall Creek and Coniston Station massacres;
  • the discussion of a number of 'hard' issues, including genocide;
  • the discussion of land rights in which the concerns of some students could be expressed;
  • the opportunity for some degree of reconciliation to take place and for students to reflect on their attitudes towards Indigenous peoples.

Obstacles to be overcome

There were no obstacles in the development and implementation of this program. In a town such as Tennant Creek the availability of key personnel from all organisations involved is a major issue and often the school day does not fit others' commitments. It is not surprising for long service leave, other leave or cultural issues such as 'sorry' business to be unexpected major factors in the implementation of such an education program. Flexibility is the key and a back-up plan is a must.

Factors contributing to success

The major factors that contributed to the success of this program were:

  • activities that enabled students to do work outside the classroom;
  • activities that were short and completed within lesson times;
  • activities that involved the Internet.

What we might do differently

The timing of the program over a 20-week period proved to be a problem in terms of focusing the students on the Indigenous Studies part of the program. A solution would be to conduct the program of five lessons per week over a period of five weeks. The mechanics of partnership arrangements with external organisations may also dictate the timing arrangements.


Thanks to the program coordinator, Mr Scott Beaton, and to the following organisation and people:

Papulu Apparr-Kari Aboriginal Corporation
17 Windley Street
Tennant Creek NT 0861

Rose Graham, Language Centre Worker

Linda Graham, Language Centre Worker

Phyllis Dickenson, Language Centre Worker

Penelope Phillips, Language Centre Worker

Photos courtesy of Tennant Creek High School