Australia: Allegations mount at top indigenous school

By Kathy Marks

Photo / Greg Dixon
Photo / Greg Dixon

SYDNEY - One of Australia's leading indigenous colleges is facing accusations of bullying, inflating student figures and strip-searching a 15-year-old girl.

The allegations involving Djarragun College, in north Queensland, are being investigated by an independent lawyer, Jim Brooks, while the enrolment figures - which affect how much government funding the school receives - are to be examined by the Department of Education, the Australian newspaper reported.

The college is based at Gordonvale, south of Cairns, and most pupils are from remote Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island communities. On the website of Dare to Lead, a national project aimed at improving educational outcomes for indigenous students, Djarragun's principal, Jean Illingworth, says one reason it has a high retention rate for seniors is that "we have eliminated most bullying within the school".

However, former employees claim that staff suffer bullying and have been wrongfully dismissed.

Louise Redmond, the former chief operating officer, who left late last year, told the Australian that staff turnover was nearly 50 per cent a year, which "presented real problems for the students".

The 15-year-old girl was allegedly forced to strip down to her underwear during a search for drugs, conducted by a non-indigenous female nurse. But Illingworth - who was not at Djarragun then - said she had been told that the girl was not required to remove any clothing. "She was wearing shorts and a top, and was asked to lift the elastic of her shorts and shake them to see if anything dropped out, and the same with her bra," she told the newspaper.

Mathew Curtis, the college's former head of senior school, who also left last year, claimed that the enrolment figures included "more than 70 students I had never met or seen at the school in the 18 months I had been there".

The school, which is partly controlled by the Anglican Church and has 640 pupils on its roll, receives more than A$12,000 ($16,425) a year from the federal and state governments for each student. Last week, 40 of 76 students at a satellite campus of Djarragun near Port Douglas were expelled or suspended for smoking, using cannabis or "unruly behaviour".

- NZ Herald

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