Feature, News from the Field

One for the Books: Nyirripi School nurtures bilingual literacy with Ninu/Bilby Story

06 Sep. 2023

Australia’s native languages and mammals share an extinction crisis. Just as we have the world’s worst mammal extinction record, Australia is suffering one of the largest and most rapid losses of language worldwide. As such, efforts to preserve, promote and revitalise our First Nations languages are of vital importance. In light of this, Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is proud to be celebrating an amazing undertaking by a school local to our Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary


Warlpiri Ranger, Christine Ellis, releasing a Bilby into Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary with students from Nyirripi School. Brad Leue/AWC
Warlpiri Ranger, Christine Ellis, releasing a Bilby into Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary with students from Nyirripi School.


In the heart of central Australia, on the spinifex sandplains, a momentous event unfolded last year. Students from Nyirripi School gathered to welcome back Ninu (Greater Bilbies) to the traditional lands of the Ngalia-Warlpiri and Luritja people for the first time in over a century. A bright-eyed community participated in the release of 32 Bilbies into Newhaven Sanctuary’s fenced feral predator-free area, with children and elders alike sharing delight at this significant cultural and conservational event.

Nyirripi teacher Tracey Millar said, “The children absolutely loved the experience.”

“They have never seen Bilbies and thought they were very cute. Some of our students continued to draw pictures and write stories about the experience. They also talked about wanting to be rangers when they grow up which is a wonderful pathway to work for them.”


Pages from the Ninu Kurlu book
Pages from the Ninu Kurlu book


The learnings didn’t stop there – using pictures of the event taken by AWC photographer, Brad Leue, Nyrripi school signed then onto World Vision’s Unlock Literacy Project, creating a bilingual picture book in both English and Warlpiri about the translocation and their experience attending it.

The book was authored and designed by the kurdu kurdu (kids) in Nyirripi, with help from teachers, Newhaven Warlpiri Rangers and community Elders. The students storyboarded, discussed, authored and reviewed content together, selecting their favourite photos and writing content from their reflections on the event in Warlpiri and English. Finally, they designed and illustrated the book using Canva and Procreate on the computer and iPads.


Pages from the Ninu Kurlu book Nyirripi community
Pages from the Ninu Kurlu book Nyirripi community
Pages from the Ninu Kurlu book


This endeavour reflects the critical role that digital and language literacy play in nurturing self-determination. Bilingual education and strengthening culture and community involvement in schools improves both education outcomes and language preservation, with crucial run-on effects for improving the wellbeing, cultural and economic conditions for Indigenous Australians.

With approximately 75 percent of Indigenous languages still spoken in Australia being endangered, initiatives like these are key to ensuring the continuation and transmission of culture, customs and history as part of the heritage and identity of First Nations People. Digital literacy has likewise been identified as a key component of efforts to meet Closing the Gap targets for Indigenous Australians, giving young people the tools and platform to represent themselves in key issues affecting them.

At the book’s launch in April there was a warm hush as the children buried their noses in their book, glowing with pride at what they had created.


Nyirripi students at the book launch WorldVision
Nyirripi students – Derek, Norbert, Geofferey, Robbie, Chris and Nickisha – at the Ninu Kurlu book launch, immersed in their creations.


When asked what they thought about the activity, one of the students cried: ‘One more please!’

AWC is currently planning the collaborative creation of further Warlpiri language books with Nyirripi School and WorldVision. AWC is honoured to have been able to contribute to the growing bank of Warlpiri literature, and looks forward to more opportunities for two-way resource creation.

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Wayne Lawler/AWC
Wayne Lawler/AWC
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