21.1 C
Byron Shire
January 26, 2022

Storylines – the education gap

Latest News

Lennox Head forge ahead across four grades in local cricket

Local cricket is approaching the midway point of the 2021–22 season and sees Lennox Head playing strongly across all four senior grades.

Other News

From border to border – an ocean pools odyssey

Three women on a mission plan to ride their eBikes along the NSW Coast from the Victorian border to the Queensland border and visit ocean pools on the way in a quest to raise money for three deserving charities.

January 21 National Cabinet on Omicron, RATs, vax and treatments

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a media release about yesterday's meeting of the National Cabinet.

Comment: Welcome to the Byron Bay family law dilemma – Jesus wept

In spring 2013, Mary and Joseph bought a house in Suffolk Park for $500,000.

COVID-19 update: restrictions extended by a month

The State's COVID-19 restrictions have been extended for a month, as another 29 people with the virus passed away.

Disaster prevention pledge welcomed

The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) has welcomed a pre-election commitment from Federal Labor to invest up to $200 million per year in disaster prevention and resilience.

Check a charity’s status before donating to a good cause

It wouldn't be the first time generous people have been scammed by fake charities and in the wake of the Tonga disaster, Australia's charity regulator is urging a quick check before donating.

This article is made possible by the support of Ninbella Gallery.

Access to a good quality education can ensure that an individual will be successful in life. Unfortunately for Indigenous Australians, equal access to educational opportunities have not always existed. Whilst some might argue that this problem is rooted in the past, such limitations continue to have a resounding impact on the quality of life for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

Equal access to educational opportunities has not always existed for Indigenous Australians. Photo Wallula – Pixabay

Australian school systems have existed in this country for over 200 years. Initially established to educate the children of free settlers, there has always been an education gap between the haves and have nots. Our education system, as we know it today, with its Government-funded public school sector, came about much later and it was not until the 1880’s that we saw an expansion into secondary education.

Throughout this time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not considered to be a part of Australia’s future. Initially, they tried to get rid of us through massacres, germ warfare, and attempted genocide. When that failed, we were marginalised and placed into small, easily controlled communities. Our gene pool was expected to wither and die out.

After some time, it was realised that Indigenous Australians were here to stay. Only then was it established by those in power that English language education was important for First Australians. But this realisation was not achieved with the best interests of Indigenous people in mind. Instead, it was brought about in the sense that our people could prove useful as a cheap source of labor.

Cabbage Tree Island Public School

A carving of Aboriginal children at William Ricketts Sanctuary, Mount Dandenong, Victoria. Photo Tanja Gerls – Pixabay.

Cabbage Tree Island Public School was established on the small island community on the Richmond River in 1893. This was the same year that the island was gazetted by the government as an Aboriginal Reserve.

Prior to this point, as our oral history tells us, the community of Cabbage Tree Island was self-sufficient and comprised of hard-working farmers, boat builders, and graziers. Such self-sufficiency came to a crashing halt with the establishment of the NSW Aborigines Protection/Welfare Board which brought about sweeping changes to the community. Self-sufficiency became government dependency.

My Grandfather attended school at Cabbage Tree Island during the 1940s. He remembers going to school up until he was around 10 years of age when he was then expected to work as a farm hand on one of the numerous white-owned cane farms situated along the banks of the Richmond River. His education was provided simply as a means of preparing him to work for these farm owners. The skills he learnt whilst at school were all focused on this end goal, with no further opportunities expected for him.

Such a system of education for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders continued for decades. My people were never expected to be anything more than farm hands or domestic servants. The purpose of educating them to any degree was to merely ensure that they would be hardworking and courteous to their white bosses.

Bundjalung man Eli Cook is a school teacher in the Ballina area. Photo David Lowe.

During the 1960s and ‘70s my father also attended Cabbage Tree Island Public School. His education took place in a period of transition in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy making; from segregation to assimilation. He vividly remembers that he and his siblings were never allowed to attend school at the nearby Wardell Public School because the white families did not want their children mixing with the blacks.

By the time he reached High School, the assimilation policy was in full effect. He attended Ballina High School during this period, making many friends of all races. However, the hangover of times-gone-by ensured that there was still a deep rift between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and teachers at the school. For some, school became too difficult. Their attendance began to drop and eventually they pulled out completely.

Historical implications of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences

The historical implications of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences have a direct impact on the educational gaps we see in today’s schools. The government has earmarked school attendance, year 12 attainment, and English literacy and numeracy as their key target areas. However, is this enough considering the deep rooted and far-reaching impacts of policies gone by?

Remote communities are even more deeply affected with the results of targeted outcomes up to 20 per cent lower than for those along the East Coast of NSW. Whilst I agree it is important to have targets, the agenda must transform into how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children access education from their earliest days. It also comes down to how we teach our children and whether our system of education is set up for success or failure. Only when we fully understand and accept the past will we be able to progress forward into the future.

Eli Cook at Angels Beach. Photo David Lowe.


Eli Cook is from the Nyangbal clan of the Bundjalung nation.

His family are descendants of the South Ballina tribe.

As a local school teacher from the Ballina area he has worked closely with the Aboriginal community for the past eight years.

‘I hold a great interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advancement and seek to create stronger communities through truth sharing and shared cultural experiences,’ says Eli.


More Storylines articles

Storylines – An escape from reality

I am a teacher. I teach at University Canberra, on Ngunnawal country, in ACT. This university went into ‘Lockdown’ about four months ago. We were all locked out of workplace and told to stay home and teach online. ACT Health...


50 years of Aboriginal Tent Embassy

This 26 January 2022 will be the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Ngambri-Ngunnawal Country. This is an iconic moment in the history of the struggle for justice for Aboriginal people in the country because the Aboriginal Tent Embassy remains as relevant and necessary as ever.


A prisoner of hope – healing possible as Country returned

In a recent conversation, with a dear friend, Gumilaroi educator Professor Bob Morgan, my spirit was lifted when he told me that after 50+ years of struggling for justice and equity for First Nations’ people in Australia and overseas that he remains ‘a prisoner of hope’ despite the glacial speed of progress and change.


Storylines – Recognising the importance of gentle men

The world needs gentle men. A gentle man is someone who puts more into the world than he takes out. For me this is an adequate description of First Nations men.


Storylines – Recognising goanna country

Motivated by the Eddie Mabo case for land rights and the fact that important sites for Aboriginal people were being eaten up by rapacious land development supported by local government, Bandjalang Elder Lawrence Wilson became the prime mover for the original Native Title claims at Evans Head.


Storylines: Growing hope

Hope is a fragile thing in 2021. With the current pandemic and the uncertainty in so many aspects of life, our hope is being shadowed by fear. It is profoundly affecting our humanity.


Storylines: Heal Country

As NAIDOC week arrives and we spend another year celebrating from home, it gives us a chance to sit and reflect upon the theme of this year’s celebrations.


Storylines: Telling our stories connects people to our history and the...

Aboriginal knowledge, is tied up in stories, dance and art. I share my verbal knowledge with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. It is about connecting people to our history of country and heritage and also helps them understand their connection to our environment.


Storylines – the education gap

Access to a good quality education can ensure that an individual will be successful in life. Unfortunately for Indigenous Australians, equal access to educational opportunities have not always existed. Whilst some might argue that this problem is rooted in...


Storylines – Call for Aboriginal housing and support

Byron Shire has been experiencing increasing rents for over a decade. It has become a very expensive place to live.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


  1. “Access to a good quality education can ensure that an individual will be successful in life.”
    This is untrue. In a racist country like Australia this can’t be true.

  2. What a clever young man and a teacher to boot. His students are fortunate indeed. Often I see smart Aboriginal people appearing “half baked” because of insufficient education. Alway was and always will be the key to successful lives.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Sunrise paddler with Rainbow Dragons offers new era for seasoned campaigner

Former long-distance paddling champion Brooke Harris has found new sporting life with the Rainbow Dragons and likes to take advantage of the new 6am Sunrise session in Ballina.

Far North Coast Comedy

Lots of comedy to laugh out loud at

Entertainment in the Byron Shire for the week beginning 26 January, 2022

There's still loads of stuff on in the Byron Shire and beyond

Taxi stolen at knifepoint in Tweed Heads

An investigation is underway after a taxi driver had his cab stolen at knifepoint at Tweed Heads.