Photo: Watarrka Foundation

The traditional owners of the iconic Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park in the Northern Territory have combined their rent income from the park with private donations to build a secondary classroom to keep their children at school for longer.

An open plan classroom, computer room and teachers office will be launched on Saturday, 9th March at 10am with a smoking ceremony at Lilla outstation, more than four hours south west of Alice Springs.

Traditional owner Sadie Williams said the $320,000 investment will enable local students to stay living with their families in surrounding outstations while they continue their studies at the Watarrka school until year 10.

“We have fought hard over many years for our primary school to stay open so that our kids can get a good bilingual and bicultural education on country,” Ms Williams said.

“We put some of our own money to build a high school out bush for our children. Kids won’t get homesick like when they have to go away to school in cities. It makes our kids feel happy and safe living at home with their families and going to high school.”

“Education is very important to us and we know that keeping our kids at home for as long as possible will give them a better chance to succeed in life,” she said.

The traditional owners invested $135,000 of their collective rent income in the project, while the not-for-profit Watarrka Foundation raised the balance from a variety of sources over an 18 month period.

The Central Land Council’s community development program supported the traditional owners to plan and monitor the construction project in partnership with the foundation.

“These community-driven initiatives are more likely to help close the education gap than top-down government programs because the childrens’ families are engaged and are using their own income,” said CLC chief executive Joe Martin-Jard.

The traditional owners’ investment in the secondary classroom project builds on their earlier decisions to spend more than $180,000 for education support projects for the Watarrka outstations and their school.

“The right to access an education in your home environment is an accepted human right and we are proud of having contributed towards providing this to the families in Watarrka,” said Watarrka Foundation chair Paul Jensen.

Christine Munro, a teacher at the Watarrka school and a member of the foundation’s advisory group, provided on-site support to the secondary classroom project.

Before the project, she had to teach up to 25 students of all ages in one small classroom.

“Having an additional classroom has enabled us to separate the students into age groups and give them each more focused attention which is helping them to learn faster.”

“The kids love the space and volunteered an entire Saturday to help shift, carry and organise our learning materials.

“Just knowing the world out there cares about their education is making a difference. It’s a joy to teach smiling children.”

Media contacts: Marie Rançon,, 0467 879 254 / Paul Jensen, 0419 603 330,