Territory Stories

Learning lessons : indigenous education in the Northern Territory



Learning lessons : indigenous education in the Northern Territory

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Eric Johnston Lecture.


Collins, Bob, 1946-2007


Northern Territory Library Occasional Papers; PublicationNT; E-Books; Eric Johnston Lecture ; no. 14; Occasional papers (Northern Territory Library) ; no. 53




Made available via the Publications (Legal Deposit) Act 2004 (NT).


The 14th Eric Johnston Lecture at the Northern Territory Library delivered in 1999.




Eric Johnston Lecture; Republicanism; Australia; Aboriginal Australians; Social conditions; 20th century; Education; Northern Territory

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Eric Johnston Lecture ; no. 14; Occasional papers (Northern Territory Library) ; no. 53

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Occasional Paper No. 53 FOURTEENTH ERIC JOHNSTON LECTURE 1999 Learning Lessons Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory By Bob Collins This paper is available only via the Internet. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the publisher. This paper should not be reproduced without permission from the copyright owners. I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing Eric Johnston from the time he arrived in the Territory as officer commanding RAN naval forces in Northern Australia, through his notable period as Administrator of the Northern Territory, subsequently Chairman of the then Batchelor College Council and up until his untimely death. Like all of us who had the privilege of knowing him, I miss him a great deal. In this 14th Eric Johnston Lecture I want to talk about the man himself, and two major fields of his endeavor, Vice Regal Office and Indigenous education. Eric established his Territory reputation in the aftermath of cyclone Tracy. The critical role he played in command of the military forces assisting in the clean-up and rehabilitation of Darwin and the style and good humour with which he carried out that task gave him a permanent place in the hearts of all of us who were there at that time. His subsequent appointment to Vice Regal Office as the Northern Territorys Administrator was inspired, and warmly supported by all Territorians. Eric and Joan Johnston invested the role with a whole new meaning. They took the Office of Administrator to the people of the Northern Territory in a way that had never been done before. Eric and Joan literally took it to every corner of the Northern Territory and Joan threw herself as well into work on behalf of children in the Northern Territory which she carries on to this day. I am not a person who normally enjoys formal occasions, but I can honestly say that I looked forward to the invitations to Government House I received as Leader of Her Majestys loyal Opposition during Eric and Joans time there. I recall some memorable occasions during that time, of dinners with among others, Prime Ministers and Governors-General and our recently reaffirmed Head of State, the Queen of England. A gracious, well-informed and charming lady. Absolutely nothing wrong with her that being an Australian wouldnt fix. There were lessons to be learned from the dishonesty of the recent campaign on the Republic. As much as I disagree with John Winston Howard on retaining the Queen of England as our head of state, I agree with him in his opposition to a popularly elected nonexecutive head of state under our Westminster system of responsible government. I could not help but think of Eric Johnston when reflecting on the potential instability that could be caused by as popular an elected head of state if that person ever decided to take a political stance independent to that of the government. If there had been a position of elected Governor of the State of the Northern Territory during Erics time he would have won the contest in a romp. There was no doubt that during his time as Administrator he was the most popular and universally well-regarded public figure across the whole of the Northern Territory, but with the strength of appointed office placing him above party politics. Australians do not directly elect the Prime Minister. The democratically elected members of Parliament and Parliament itself do that. The same process that provides us with the muchpraised century old stability of our executive Government could not be trusted apparently to

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