Rawa Community School - Punmu

Contact Details: 

Punmu Community, Great Sandy Desert
LMB 17
NEWMAN  WA  6753
ph:   (08) 9176 9022
fax:  (08) 9176 9023
e-mail:  administrator@rawaschool.com.au
Principal:  Mrs Lorraine Sligar
Chairperson:  Mr Ray (Longman) Thomas

Back to top.

When Punmu Community was established in 1981, it was under harsh conditions: There was little shade and water and no access to a regular food source. However, the Manyjiljarra people were driven by a determination to protect their culture and independence and these factors are also reflected in the development and organisational structure of the school.
Located on the north east edge of Lake Dora, in the Rudall River National Park, 600km east south east of Port Hedland, the school started with a small group of children taught by a family member supported by a visiting teacher from one of Strelley’s out-station schools located at Camp 61 or Paru (Spinifex).

In the latter half of 1983, the Community separated from Strelley and changed its name from Panaka Panaka to Punmu. The School became a separately incorporated body in 1982, adopting the name Rawa – meaning “A Long Time” or “Forever”. Considerable growth has occurred since 1982 and the school now services an outstation school at Kunawarritji (Well 33) 180 km to the east on the Canning Stock Route.


Back to top.
Physical Setting: 

Punmu is an Aboriginal Community, situated on the most eastern finger of Lake Dora in the Rudall River National Park in the Pilbara region of northern Western Australia. It is one of the most remote communities in Australia, being more than 600 kms from the nearest service centre of Port Hedland depending upon the road conditions, which vary according to the Wet and Dry (seasons). Access is via a dirt track and in good conditions, the journey to Port Hedland is an undertaking of 8½ hours. Only four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.


The climate of Punmu is typical of much of the Australian desert lands. Summer temperatures are consistently high, approaching more than 50° as summer peaks and winter months are mild although temperatures readily fall below zero overnight. Dust storms are common throughout the year, but after a good Wet season, the area is picturesque with spinifex grasses in seed, many varieties of colourful wildflowers and an abundance of birdlife.

Back to top.
The Community: 

Punmu Community has a fairly stable population of approximately 160 people, most of whom speak Manyjiljarra as a first language. The Community has close links with an outstation known as Kunawarritji near Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, where two teachers from Rawa School service the needs of thirty (30) students.

Punmu has developed solidly over the past twenty-five years and celebrated this milestone anniversary on 26 September 2006.  During this time it has witnessed the construction of new housing, the establishment of a store, a community office and a mechanic’s workshop, as well as the sinking of several new bores. A more substantial main school building was constructed in 1986, an adjacent pre-school in 1992 and a secondary building was completed in 1996. Considerable tree planting has been concentrated around the buildings. Excellent, fully equipped teacher accommodation is provided.

Punmu is an alcohol-free community and all visitors and residents are required to respect this community law.

Back to top.
Cross Cultural Initiatives 


The controlling body of Rawa Community School is the Rawa Community School Board, comprised of all interested members of the Community and presently chaired by Mr Ray (Longman) Thomas. The Board assumes responsibility for all major administrative, financial and policy decision-making and meets regularly.

The process of consultation is also facilitated by a high degree of day-to-day contact – non-teaching Community members are frequently present in the classroom when school is in progress and a large number of Aboriginal staff are employed in the school, both full-time and part-time. Additionally, all school employees attend weekly staff meetings. Non-Aboriginal staff are not members of the School Board and attend School Board meetings at the invitation of the members.

Back to top.

The curriculum is based on valuing two-way education, with both Manyjiljarra and English used as languages of instruction and teachers and Aboriginal Indigenous Education Workers (AIEWs) working closely together.


The First Steps Continua and National Profiles are utilised for plotting students’ progress.

In the secondary school, the bulk of the timetable is devoted to acquiring and refining academic skills as well as focusing on trades and community-based skills, with work experience programs being initiated towards the end of the academic year.

The teaching of cultural knowledge remains a high priority at all levels of the curriculum. Bush trips and excursions provide out-of-classroom opportunities for two-way education for both the students and the non-Aboriginal staff. All children also participate in Art, Music and Sport.

In 2005, a Vocation Education and Training (VET) Program began, students aged 15 years and above and community members transition into work have since been invited to participate in the following training areas:

  • Work Readiness Course
  • Horticulture
  • Rural Skills
  • Communications
  • Plant Operation
  • Industrial Skills
  • Food Handling and Processing
  • Hospitality
  • Building and Construction

These courses are delivered in blocks of training that lead to the acquisition of certified qualification.  With these qualifications Punmu community members are equipped with better skills to gain meaningful employment

Back to top.
Physical Resource: 

The school has registered Kindergarten, Pre-Primary, Primary and Secondary programs and consists of six buildings:

  • The main building comprises an open-plan primary section, an office and staff room, a kitchen, a storeroom, library facilities, as well as teacher preparation area.
  • An adjacent building houses the Pre-School and Kindergarten area, which comprises an activity area, store room and toilets. 
  • A Literature Production / Language Centre has been established in another building and is currently being used as part of the Martu History and Archive Project; (Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa), this is an exciting project which shares much of Martu's recent history with our school students.
  • A large Vocational and Education Training (VET) facility is utilised for Adult Education. 
  • The Secondary Building boasts state of the art laptops with IT training facilities in a computer centre, which the whole school and community accesses, along with a classroom and wet area. 
  • A large, extensively resourced Manual Arts Centre provides students with opportunities to develop woodworking and metalwork skills. 
  • A large Recreation Hall is resourced with musical instruments and equipment, a health and fitness centre, a creche area and a BRACS broadcasting facility. 
  • In 2005 Rawa Community School opened the Training Cafe which is used as part of the VET Program Food Processing & Handling and Hospitality training.  This initiative was funded by the State and Federal Government and is well patronised as a very popular community facility providing for some very positive outcomes for community members.



Back to top.

In 2006, the school has a core enrolment of 84 students: 5 kindergarten, 9 pre-school, 49 primary and 21 secondary. In addition, the school population can be supplemented by school-age visitors to the Community from periods of a few days to a month and who come from communities in the vicinity such as Parnngurr, Jiggalong, Balgo and Kiwirrkura.

The Primary school-age students are taught in three groupings which roughly correspond to years 1/2/3 and 4/5/6/7, but which more accurately reflect standard Manyjiljarra classifications of young people and are guided by age, social development and academic achievement. The Secondary students currently form one ungraded high school to year 10 level.

Back to top.
School Aims: 

Rawa School is a two way learning school situated in Punmu. Community life is valued alongside Western education and teachers are employed to teach mainstream curriculum. Cultural issues are respected by the school which employs many part-time AEWs to interpret and reinforce lessons. Rawa school's main focus is to ensure students are able to meaningfully participate in the Aboriginal way and within mainstream society.


Back to top.
Teaching Conditions: 

At present, nine (9) non-Aboriginal staff members are employed by the School Board. In 2006, these positions consisted of:

  • 1 Pre-School teacher (1.0 FTE)
  • 2 Primary School teachers (1.0 FTE)
  • 1 Lower Secondary School teacher (1.0 FTE)
  • 1 Principal (1.0 FTE)
  • 1 Administrator (1.0 FTE)
  • 1 Computer Assistant (0.75 FTE)
  • 1 VET Coordinator (1.0 FTE)
  • 1 General Duties Officer (1.0 FTE)

All positions include extra-curricular responsibilities as the  workload associated with operating an Independent School is considerable.

All short-listed applicants for positions at Rawa Community School are interviewed by members of the Rawa Community School Board and this usually requires a trip to Punmu, possibly for an overnight stay.  Successful applicants are initially offered a temporary contract covering a reasonable probationary period, which protects the interests of both parties.

  • No alcohol is to be brought in, drunk, sold or given to others within the Community.  Disregard of the Community rule entails instant dismissal.
  • No illegal drugs or hallucinogenic substances are to be brought in, drunk, sold or given to others within the Community.  Disregard of this Community rule entails instant dismissal.
  • Staff must adhere to the School Policy guidelines at all times.
  • The Rawa School Board is the employing authority and the wishes and directions of this Board, as expressed at School Board meetings, must be followed at all times.


Back to top.
Working in our school 

School Community Agreement: 
Back to top.