Harry Giese, Director of Welfare

                     Education in the Northern Territory

When I first came [to the Territory] there were no post-primary or secondary education facilities at all…if your children wanted to do matriculation you had to send them down south or had to leave the Territory. As for Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal children, the welfare program only extended to pre-school education. Beyond this was the responsibility of the Department of Education.

‘Accordingly, we saw a need to give special assistance to part-Aboriginal children who wanted to go on to secondary and tertiary education. Long before the Department of Education set up a high school on the old Darwin Primary School site we established a special scholarship scheme. Part-Aboriginal children who felt that they could undertake secondary and tertiary studies were given scholarships that provided for their total care and upkeep. Some of them went to boarding schools; some of them went into private homes. The first two girls from Retta Dixon Homes went to a family in Newcastle and graduated from Newcastle High School. One went into nursing and she has been all around the world since. The other eventually became a telephone supervisor and had charge of a very big section of the telephone exchange in Sydney. She is back now living in Darwin. People like Pat Dodson, Neville Perkins, Margaret Valadian and Mick Dodson all benefited from this scheme. They would not have had the chance of secondary education had they had no opportunity to move out of the Territory.’

Harry Giese, Planning a program for Aborigines in the 1950s, Northern Territory Library Service Occasional Paper 16, 1990, page 9

The first Northern Territory Aboriginal pre-school was set up at the Bungalow, near Alice Springs, in 1954. By 1967 there were 16 throughout the Territory, at most of the Aboriginal communities. Seventy per cent of indigenous children of pre-school age ‘were in properly-constructed pre-schools, being taught by qualified pre-school teachers’.1

Aboriginal education was seen as part of a phased program, with students moving from the special schools of settlements, missions and pastoral properties ‘into hostels with other children for post-primary education, for apprenticeships, for special training as a teaching or health assistant, or into a foster home, or…attached to an employer as a ward-in-training’. The third stage was seen as working ‘in the community’, ‘to earn his living in his chosen vocation, working and living side by side with white Australians…Now he faces the full impact of our society as an integral economic and social unit in that society.’ With ‘the assistance and encouragement of the community and of welfare officers, [he should]…be ready…for the full exercise of his responsibilities and duties as a citizen’.2

In 1956, control of Aboriginal education passed from the Commonwealth Office of Education to the Welfare Branch. ‘We saw education as an integral part of our suite of programs, and considered it essential that these should not be directed from outside the Territory,’ wrote Giese.3

At the time there were 525 children attending government primary schools, taught by 21 teachers, and 1033 children in mission primary schools with 26 teachers.4  Scholarships were offered to selected students at state teacher training colleges. A two-week orientation program was run in Darwin before people went out to settlements. An ASOPA course was set up at the New South Wales college, and then the scheme was extended to Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and Geelong, with teachers being trained for missions as well as government schools. By 1967, 83 Aboriginal teaching assistants had completed special courses, and 66 were working in schools.

1 Harry Giese, Interview, NTRS 226, TS 755, Tape 26, Side B, Northern Territory Archives Service
2 H.C. Giese, The Native Welfare Programme in the Northern Territory, typescript, Appendix 3, NTRS 1043/P1, Box 3, Northern Territory Archives Service
See discussion in H.C. Giese, A Brief Study of Aboriginal Education in the Northern Territory, with some thoughts on future development in this field, Research Seminar on Education for Aborigines, Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs, Monash University, 14-16 August 1967

Kormilda College and other educational opportunities


In 1967, Kormilda College, to which bright Indigenous students from all over the Territory could come in transition from primary to high school, was opened. It was intended that they would then move into mainstream high schools. Teaching assistants were also trained at Kormilda. Begun with just 24 students, by 1972, 227 were furthering their secondary education, representing 40 centres and many groups and languages. Vocational courses in trades such as mechanics and metalwork, in business methods and office procedure, in agriculture and pottery, and in cooking, hairdressing, sewing and home nursing were also set up. Extra tutorials and homework assistance were offered. Aboriginal instructors taught traditional song and dance, art and crafts. Kormilda was also used as a venue for induction courses for teachers, and for literacy and leadership courses for Aboriginal people. In 1972, Dhupuma College was set up at Gove, along the same lines. It was within half a day’s trip of home communities, allowing students to stay in contact with them.

Just as when Director of Physical Education in Queensland he had brought children from outback areas for holidays to widen their horizons and improve their health, Harry Giese offered opportunities for a three-week holiday on the beach to Aboriginal children from places such as Hooker Creek (Lajamanu) and Yuendumu, who had never seen the sea. ‘They had an absolute whale of a time.’ He saw this as ‘an integral part of the school program’ for all children, ‘not as something for rich kids’, but similar to those provided for children ‘from deprived areas, from the inner city and country areas’.

By 1968, some 90 per cent of Indigenous primary school children were being taught by qualified teachers and 70 per cent in post-primary schools, which also involved Aboriginal teaching assistants. By mid-1970, there were 16 schools for Aboriginal children on government settlements, 2 in welfare centres, 7 on missions, 2 on government pastoral properties, 20 on other pastoral properties, Kormilda College in Berrimah in Darwin and a school at East Arm Leprosarium.


Welfare Branch Annual Report 1969-70, Northern Territory Administration, AGPS, Canberra, 1971, Northern Territory Library

Parliamentary Committee on Public Works, ‘Kormilda College for Aboriginal Students at Darwin, Northern Territory’, Parliamentary Papers No. 107, Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 1972

Harry Giese, Interview, NTRS 226, TS 755, Tape 8, Side B, Northern Territory Archives Service

Harry Giese, A Brief Study of Aboriginal Education in the Northern Territory, with some thoughts on future development in this field, Research Seminar on Education for Aborigines, Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs, Monash University, 14-16 August 1967

H. Giese, Education: A Key Factor in Aboriginal Advancement, Special Schools Bulletin 6 (3), June 1969

Harry Giese: Early Childhood Champion

presentation by Sue Reaburn, Early Childhood Australia Conference 2016

Please CLICK HERE to view the presentation

See also B.H. Watts and J.D. Gallacher, Report on an investigation into the curriculum and teaching methods used in Aboriginal schools in the Northern Territory, to the Minister of State for Territories, Darwin, 1964. 

Access at State Library of Queensland,

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