What is Djarragun College?
Located on three campuses around Cairns (Queensland, Australia), Djarragun College is a P-12 co-educational day-and-boarding school that serves the needs of Indigenous students from Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. It is now both Australia’s largest majority-Indigenous independent school and Australia’s largest Indigenous boarding school. As an important component of the Cape York Partnership network, Djarragun College has a stated mission to develop proud, strong, educated Indigenous men and women, who walk confidently in two worlds, to be leaders, and to be role models for their families and communities. The school is growing rapidly and now has about 400 students, of whom about 25% are boarders.
How and why did I get involved?
Djarragun College was originally administered by the Anglican Church. After contending with some challenging times, control was transferred to a new, independent board of directors under the auspices of the Cape York Partnership in 2011. In 2020, a new, visionary Executive Principal, Dr Michael Barton, was appointed to manage the school’s anticipated growth. In order to support this new direction, several new board members were appointed. As part of that process, I was approached to serve as Board Chair, a position I accepted and commenced in August 2020.
My background to accepting the role is as an educator and administrator who served asynchronously as the Principal of five highly regarded schools in four countries over 25 years. I have always had a deep interest in cross-cultural education that forms young people for leadership through holistic education, and especially in learning new insights from listening to others’ perspectives. I have extensive experience in school board governance matters, including undertaking external performance reviews of a wide variety of different types of independent schools, so it seemed natural that I should step up and help in any way I could when the request came from Djarragun College. My work in supporting school boards has been recognised with formal accreditation by NESA (New South Wales Education Standards Authority) and CIS (Council of International Schools).
Tell me more about Djarragun College
Djarragun College is a non-denominational independent college with three campuses specialising in providing an excellent learning environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander students from Prep to Year 12, including students who have experienced trauma in their childhood or in their local community.
Djarragun’s main campus is situated near Gordonvale, about 22 kilometres drive south of Cairns (Queensland, Australia). The main campus is set in extensive, spacious grounds that enjoy a clear view through to the pyramid peak of Djarragun. The main campus contains classrooms (of course), separate boarding facilities for boys and girls, sports grounds, a pool, gardens and workshops for teaching, together with a fully equipped public health clinic known as Ngak Min Health.
Djarragun’s second campus is at Wangetti, just over 40 kilometres north of Cairns. Known as the Cape York Girl Academy, this campus became part of Djarragun College at the beginning of 2022, and Australia’s first boarding high school designed for young Indigenous mothers and their babies to live and learn together together with a cohort of young women who are at risk of disengaging with their education. All students at the Girl Academy are supported by qualified trauma-informed staff and graduate with an education and the confidence to be future leaders of their community.
Djarragun has a third campus, unofficially known as the ‘Wilderness Centre’ at Little Mulgrave, about 16 kilometres from the main campus on the edge of Danbulla National Park. The Wilderness Centre, which is used for retreats, conferences and experiential education, has residential facilities, a large meeting hall, full dining facilities and extensive riverfront grounds.
What is the role of the board?
Like the board of any independent school, Djarragun College’s Board has four main areas of responsibility, each with four main facets:
The board understands that there is a clear difference between its role of governance (which is focussed on the future) and the operational role of the staff (which has a stronger day-to-day focus) under the delegated leadership of the Executive Principal .
An immediate priority for Djarragun’s board is strategic planning. To this end, a series of meetings is being planned through 2022 to bring board members and the school’s senior executive together to exchange ideas, listen to one another, and chart the school’s future pathway.
To state the obvious, this isn’t an official Djarragun College webpage. The following sites do contain more detailed ‘official’ information: