Learning culture at Arnhem Land’s bush uni creates pathway to Sydney’s Macquarie University

The day almost always starts with ABBA, loud enough to be heard from the beach, where crocodiles guard the coast.

“You mob … class time,” Penny Yibarbuk hollers as Dancing Queen wraps up.

The makeshift classroom fills slowly as students settle behind laptops, but there are lots of chairs to spare — not everyone makes it this far.

“You chose to come here to study, nothing else,” cultural professor and traditional owner Kevin Rogers reminds everyone.

“To learn about who we are and to develop your academic skills.

“But we don’t want you to stop. We want you to finish your studies here, and then you can go down to Sydney.”

This is “bush university” — a year-long pre-university course unlike anything else in Australia.

And these students are days away from graduating.

Bush university a major feat

Nestled deep within the traditional lands of the Warndarrang people in south-east Arnhem Land, the only way in to the Wuyagiba Study Hub, better known as “the bush uni”, is via a long treacherous sandy track that tests the traction of the best of vehicles.

An older Indigenous couple, man with a mop of gray hair and beard, stand together under blue sky, sand.
Kevin and Helen Rogers started the Wuyagiba Study Hub in 2018. (ABC Katherine: Roxanne Fitzgerald)

Once a week, a ramshackle Troopy makes the two-hour journey to the nearest remote community of Ngukurr to bring back boxes of food. Dinner is cooked on camp fires at night and a billy for tea is always on the go.

For the past 10 weeks, these students have taken part in an intensive tertiary “two-way learning” course designed to prepare them for further study at Macquarie University in Sydney.

“After year 12, there are no pathways to university [young Aboriginal people],” Mr. Rogers, a co-founder of the Bush university, said.

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