Gapu Rich Focus Unit

A series of Galtha workshops and western science workshops on Gapu


Student work from the Gapu Rich Focus Unit.

In Term 2, 2004, the Yirrkala
CEC conducted a rich focus unit on Gapu, or water. This was one of a series of units intended to coincide with a Sea Rights case that was to be heard by the High Court later that year.

A document setting out the steps that would be followed on this curriculum journey explained the rationale for teaching this program as follows:

The unit provides a context to develop students’ language skills in both Yolŋu Matha (literacy) and English (Literacy and Oracy). The research related to the two coastal sites (one Dhuwa, one Yirritja) enables deep learning about Yolŋu connections and associations to the sea to occur. The Marine debris Survey will highlight some of the impacts that are occurring along the coastline.

The sea rights claim for Blue Mud Bay is scheduled to go to the High Court in August, it is a very significant event in Yolŋu contemporary history. This unit will help students focus on the significance of water bodies to their cultural and economic lives and provide a foundation to the Rich Focus Unit in Term 3 examining the history and process behind the Sea Rights claim.

The exploration of songs enables Stage 1 and 2 Music work requirements to be satisfied. The research into debris found on beaches provides students with the opportunity to carry out a survey using a western scientific/ mathematical approach. Throughout the unit students will have the opportunity to develop skills in operating technology as they document their research and present their learning.

It was planned that there would be two intensive excursions / workshops during the term and that the middle session of each day would be devoted to the Gapu Unit. The unit relied very heavily on the knowledge of yolŋu staff and community elders. The strategies for teaching the unit were set out in the following Program Overview:

Students will undertake guided research to find out about the songs, stories, dance, painting and kinship connections related to two coastal sites (one Dhuwa and one Yirritja) and the water/sea associated with those sites. The students will work with Elders and other Yolŋu consultants to gather information, transcribe and translate information and present their learning. Students will also conduct research into debris found on local beaches and present their findings. .The use of water as a metaphor for emotion will be explored through drama and art.

Students were required to perform the following tasks:

  • Plan logistics for the excursion (food, transport etc).
  • Identify Dhuwa and Yirritja places on a map.
  • Relate stories told to a map.
  • Hear stories told by elders in Yolŋu Matha.
  • Write journal entries in both Yolŋu Matha and English.
  • Participate in transcription and translation of stories and songs.
  • Participate in marine debris collection and the subsequent analysis of types of debris found.
  • Produce a report of the marine debris survey.
  • Compose music and songs drawing on issues surrounding gapu.

This Gapu Rich Focus Unit is an example of two way education where western maths and science are taught alongside Yolŋu cultural knowledge.