Establishing a remote school facility to offer an on-country learning model is needed but comes with some challenges.
A PROPOSAL to build a $42 million studio school in the Kimberley is back on track after facing setbacks following the floods earlier this year.
A vacant lot on Leopold Downs station at King Leopold Ranges, near Fitzroy Crossing, has been identified as the new site for Studio Schools Australia’s second boarding school for Indigenous students in the area.
The proposed Manjali Studio School will cater to students in years seven to nine in an on-country learning model, with a capacity of 96 students and 60 staff and visitors.
The Bunuba name for ‘shiny rock’, Manjali was inspired by the quartz rocks on site and the school was named with the permission of the Bunuba traditional owners.
Studio Schools Australia (SSA) initially proposed to build the Bandilngan Studio School at Windjana Gorge, also in the Kimberley.
BHP committed $1 million towards the proposed Bandilngan school last year.
However, the Bandilngan site was affected by the recent Kimberley floods, which caused the collapse of Fitzroy Crossing bridge and the destruction of properties.
“Unlike the Bandilngan site, the subject site is not located within close proximity to any substantial watercourses, meaning that immediate risk is greatly reduced,” the application said.
The proposed Manjali Studio School will include six student accommodation buildings, 10 staff residences, a community building, a sports oval, a sports pavilion, three learning pavilions, and an Indigenous education and research centre.
“At the centre of SSA’s vision for on-country learning is the creation of a learning environment that supports its genuine intentions,” the development application said.
“As such, the approach taken for the Manjali School featured a detailed ‘co-design’ process with the Bunuba community of the West Kimberley and Fitzroy Valley.
“This highly interactive process occurred over the last eighteen months and included five co-design sessions located on country with Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation and other Bunuba traditional owners.”
Manjali Studio School will be one of three new facilities to be established by SSA in northern Australia in the next few years, the application said.
Its anticipated opening is 2024, although a development assessment panel is yet to decide on the application.
Paving the way
The Manjali project will be built 10 kilometres away from the Yiramalay Studio School, SSA’s first educational facility in the area.
The Yiramalay Studio School, which opened in 2010, was SSA’s pilot school and targets students in senior high school learning.
The documentation for the proposed Manjali school has shown the difficulties in operating a major educational facility in remote Western Australia that are rarely experienced by its metropolitan counterparts.
The development application noted the remoteness of the location would require a dedicated plan, particularly for challenges associated with the wet season.
“Through operating [Yiramalay Studio School] since 2010, SSA understands the challenges presented by the operation of a boarding school in a remote location,” the application said.
“We commit to putting in place the staff, equipment, processes and procedures to safely manage the flooding and isolation risk so that we can achieve our objective of delivering quality on-country education to the children of the Kimberley region.”
Risk mitigations, including flood warning and an evacuation plan based on river water level monitoring, will form part of the site emergency processes.
Recent bushfire activity in regional WA also highlighted the challenges faced in establishing a remote schooling option.
A detailed bushfire management plan has been prepared to address the bushfire-prone nature of the site and the Kimberley in general.
Despite the difficulties, the importance of an on-country learning option for Indigenous students has been acknowledged.
The federal government committed $70.8 million in the 2023-24 budget to cover the scope of the Building Boarding Schools On-Country program.
A Department of Education document shows SSA’s original Bandilngan Studio School plan altered the scope of the budget.
“Construction costs have increased across Australia, particularly in remote areas,” the department said.
“This has significantly impacted what is possible within the Building Boarding Schools On-Country program.
“Supporting boarding options reduces the challenges that students from remote communities face in accessing school while staying connected to country and family.”