Higher-degree research being undertaken by Gary Fry




Professor Valerie Harwood and Dr Sheelagh Daniels-Mayes

Thesis title:

Indigeneity as a foundation for patterned Northern Territory remote Aboriginal student achievement within a stratified western education system



Project description

This study employs a Critical Race Theorist (CRT) counter-narrative to the nature of NT remote Aboriginal education policy dysfunction. Over the past decade, national testing in english and mathematics for primary and junior secondary education achievement reveals NT remote Aboriginal children having consistently under-performed on these tests at a much lower level than all other groups across Australia. This performance is situated within a broader and stratified education system, of which ongoing education reform attempts have failed to address. This entrenched pattern has NT remote Aboriginal students located at the bottom of this layering, underpinned by an Aboriginal racial identity as a defining characteristic. For NT remote Aboriginal families this layering is bound within a deepened embeddedness of racism and economic ordering that has relegated remote families to a life of socially constructed marginalisation, on their own lands.

This study applies CRT as a primary tool of analysis, Aboriginalising its tenets to respond to the unique narrative of NT Aboriginal education. Drawing on research with remote NT Aboriginal principals, community leaders and education policy actors, CRT methodology is utilised to explore the intersecting roles of colonial history, ‘race’ and wealth inequality in the construction and deployment of education inequality. The investigation privileges the voices and stories of NT remote Aboriginal families, strengthened through the researcher’s lived experience of twenty-five years employment as a teacher and senior education administrator in remote communities and urban school settings. In this study the case is made that intersectionality is central in understanding the multi-dimensional ways that Aboriginal education inequality is constructed and utilised in both the continued oppression of Aboriginal families through institutional hegemony, and the redirection of social justice measures to poor ‘white’ inequality. The CRT tenet of interest convergence/interest divergence is utilised alongside Indigenous CRT frameworks.

This study highlights NT remote Aboriginal families have long been removed from a national Western-designed and formatted education policy environment, leading to a collapse in the purpose of education and its relevance to the existential realities of remote families. This research found this outcome has its underlying causes within an interlocking political economy, which can be navigated through the placement of Aboriginality as the foundation for improving the systemic patterning of NT remote education services. This is reified through privileging a policy pillar framework situated upon Aboriginal cultural inclusion, strengthened accessible service provision, and pathways to employment on Country. Intersecting through this social and economic modelling, a form of remote Aboriginal social capitalism is posited, that channels capital wealth toward a common Aboriginal benefit, as a foundation to improving educational inequality. This advocacy lies in these problematised domains having remained central and unresolved in NT remote Aboriginal education policy modelling, and remain linked to the existential dimensions of NT remote Aboriginal community life. This study offers its progressive iteration through an Aboriginal political economy operating in NT remote Aboriginal communities and the inalienable free-hold title that living on Country is defined within.

Gary Fry is an Aboriginal man, descended from the Dagoman people (lands where the township of Katherine in the NT is situated). Gary is a former electrical contractor, who later worked as a teacher and executive school principal of schools across the NT, both remote and urban contexts. Gary’s more recent roles have included Director of the former Centre for School Leadership, based at Charles Darwin University (CDU) in Darwin, and currently works part-time in a lecturing role in teacher education. Several schools under Gary’s leadership have won major awards in school development, and this work was used in the development of the national Accountability and Performance Improvement Framework for Australia’s schooling sector.


  • Betty Watts Indigenous Researcher Award-AARE (2018)