Balgo is an Aboriginal community in the East Kimberley in Western Australia with a population of between 300 and 500 people, depending on the time of year.
The Wirrimanu Aboriginal Corporation (WAC) is a community organisation that owns the Balgo shop and also provides community and municipal services. It currently employs around 45 people.
At its annual general meeting (AGM) in June 2008, the corporation appointed new directors. The directors formally took office on 31 August 2008. They, under the chairmanship of George Lee, identified a campaign to improve school attendance in the Balgo community as their first priority.
WAC’s directors were concerned that the numbers of children attending school in Balgo were too low. They decided that it was necessary to take a strong stand and send a message to the community that going to school is really important.
As an incentive, the directors decided that the community store would not open until there was an acceptable number of children at school. They agreed that the principal would ring the WAC chairperson, Mr Lee, who would then instruct the store manager to open the store only when attendance reached 50 per cent. As a further incentive, WAC directors presented weekly prizes to the ‘top ten’ student attendees.
This program was developed by WAC and is not a government program or funded by government.
According to the school principal, Brother Rick Gaffney, the efforts of the WAC directors have made a huge difference to school attendance figures. Since the campaign started, school attendance in the primary school classes has risen dramatically. Teachers are particularly pleased with this because it means they no longer have as many catch-up lessons for kids that have missed class. But more importantly, it means that the children of Balgo are receiving an education and the community members are taking the initiative to ensure that their children attend school.
At the end-of-year school presentation WAC directors presented certificates and prizes to the top ten students for the whole year. Two children in Year 1—Rachel Mudgedell and Julian Patrick tied for first place with a school attendance record of 94 per cent. Their prize was a brand new bicycle each. Parents at Balgo were so proud that their children received awards and many families hung their awards up at home. Joseph Yugumbari was presented with a special certificate of appreciation for being a good role model in picking the kids up each morning and taking them to school.