School Story - Summary

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In 1989 the community approached Bishop Jobst to form a Catholic school for their children. Bishop Jobst flew to Gibb River with Sister Catherine Brabender, Provincial of the Sisters of the Lady of the Missions to meet with the people of Ngallagunda community. From this meeting an agreement was made for two Sisters to be the foundation members of the school. Sr Margaret Scott RNDM and Sr Frances Wilson RNDM took up the challenge to establish a school at Gibb River.

Two PrincipalsOn 31st January 1991 Sr's Margaret and Frances began school for the students of Ngallungunda and nearby Dodnun communities. A meeting was held and the decision of community members was unanimous that the school should be named Wanalirri Catholic School. Wanalirri is a significant sacred site for the community. The people also decided that the word Catholic would part of the name and spirit of the school and this intent is as strong today as it was then. Two caravans were set up with an ablution block as accommodation for the sisters and a bough shed was made for the school. The sisters taught for two years in a corrugated iron shed, the temperature rising some days to 48C.

On February 6th 1993 two very well equipped classrooms were opened set in an extremely beautiful bush setting. In January 1995 a lovely 3 bedroom home was built by the CEO for the teachers. In 1995 Sr Margaret Scott resigned from her role to work in other Kimberley schools and Sr Frances Wilson was appointed Principal and Sr Veronica Keaveney RNDM was appointed as a teacher.

Gibb River is part of the Kalumburu Parish which is situated 300km north of the community. For many years Fr Anscar McPhee served this remote area of his parish, flying when roads were impassable and driving the rough, rocky dirt road twice a term to celebrate Eucharist and administer the sacraments. During the Wet Season (December through to April) the station is accessible mainly through aircraft but during the Dry the country is full of tourist attractions.

In 2000 Sr's Frances and Veronica, with much sadness, resigned from their positions at Gibb River.

Wanalirri Catholic School employed its first lay teaching couple in 2001. Paula Sgherza was appointed Principal and Jamie Sgherza as a classroom teacher. The school has established a national award winning Literacy programme that addresses the literacy needs of the Aboriginal students who all speak Aboriginal English as their first language. Wanalirri has established a reputation for excellence and innovation in education of Aboriginal students. Community members continue to take a strong interest in the school and also play an important role in teaching the local Aboriginal language of Ngarinyin to the students. Wanalirri Catholic School continues to maintain its strong links to the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions and a strong Catholic educational legacy remains at Gibb River due to the outstanding contributions of Sisters Margaret, Frances and Veronica.

Wanalirri - 25 Years of Catholic Education at Gibb River
Pages from a book published in 2016:
Wanalirri - 25 Years of Catholic Education at Gibb River

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Interior of first schoolhouse
Interior of the 1991 Schoolhouse

Sr Margaret and Father Lorenz
Sr Margaret Scott and Fr Lorenz (most likely at the blessing of the new school building.

Yvonne Burgu and Cinda

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