To tell the history of Gawa Christian School, the history of Gawa itself as a homeland needs to be told. Gawa belongs to the Warramiri clan (mala) of the Yolngu people of North-East Arnhem Land. Warramiri people have traditional homelands both on the mainland and in the string of islands now known as The Wessel Islands. For thousands of years Gawa, situated on the northern tip of Elcho Island, was used sporadically as a place for various clans to conduct ceremonies and meetings. There is evidence that some Macassan sailors also knew of the area with Yolngu both trading with and avoiding these visitors at various times.
With the introduction of the Mission at the southern end of Elcho Island in the mid-twentieth century, some Yolngu left their traditional homelands and island homes to live and be educated at Galiwinku. Others remained on their homelands and enjoyed the trading relationship and friendship of ‘Bapa Sheppy’, the Mission Superintendant. There was no permanent community at Gawa and only an old well and a traditional meeting site (Dhulmudhunupa) by the beach distinguished it from the surrounding bush.
By the early 1980’s, after the official end of the Mission era and the beginning of self-determination, some of the older people began to talk of returning more permanently to their homelands. One old man (Ngulpurray) had a vision for his kin to live in the Gawa/Nanginyburra region. Gawa was chosen as the preferable homeland site.
There was then no road to Gawa, so in 1985, Ngulpurray took his clan daughter Kathy Guthadjaka (Gotha) and her husband Colin Baker to Gawa by boat. On this first visit they had the chance to hear some of the old stories of the land and make a preliminary survey. It was decided that the traditional meeting place would be hard to access by boat in the Wet and would be very hot underfoot at times. And so a new area to the east, overlooking the small bay was chosen as a possible residential site.
Upon returning to Galiwinku, plans were made to begin the process of cutting a road to Gawa. Elders from Djuranalpi began this task with chainsaw and axes and a track was established for the first time. Gotha, Colin and other family members began to visit Gawa on weekends, helping to form a better road and enjoying the wonderful hunting opportunities the land provides. In 1991, with children regularly present, Gotha as a teacher working at Sheppardson College, applied to be stationed at Gawa to teach them. This offer was declined, but undeterred Gotha decided to take six months leave with no pay to teach on the homeland as a ‘trial’. The six months turned into a full year but by the end of 1991 there was the encouragement of Gawa being registered as an official Homeland Learning Centre.
After many years of struggle and limited support Gotha and Colin’s desire to become a Christian School was granted in 2004. Gawa opened under the banner of NT Christian Schools. Now 55 students from three homelands attend Gawa Christian School and the small community of Gawa is thriving. God has chosen this place for His people.