Boarding school business: the voices of Aboriginal girls attending boarding schools

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Internationally, there is a paucity of research concerning boarding school experiences of Indigenous peoples (Smith 2009). Few studies have primarily addressed Indigenous girls’ experiences in contemporary boarding schools in Australia or Aotearoa New Zealand. This research was developed to amplify the voices of Indigenous girls regarding their contemporary boarding school experiences. This work sits within Indigenous studies, and reflects the multidisciplinary nature of Indigenous research. Drawing on Indigenous research methodologies, arts-based research and education, this study looks at two Australian boarding schools and includes a comparison with one Indigenous boarding school in Aotearoa New Zealand. In order to centre Indigenous student voices, I developed a new Indigenous method termed photoyarn. Photoyarn was developed with the aim of highlighting Indigenous voices in research, specifically toward providing Indigenous students with a culturally sound, relevant method they could use to drive and control their own research, about their own experiences. Photoyarn is an Indigenous method involving student photography, yarning circles and individual yarns. Photoyarn was modified for use in Aotearoa New Zealand to kōreropikitia, a method that involves digital photography, student journals and hui. Participants at each of the three boarding school sites conducted their own thematic analysis on the data they gathered. Findings showed that female Aboriginal boarding students experience homesickness, identity and behavioural changes, and changed perceptions of their home communities. Indigenous Australian boarding school students experienced racism from non-Indigenous students as well as school staff, and Aboriginal students in the study identified cultural content in classes (or lack thereof) as isolating and upsetting. Māori students identified that homesickness was softened by the cultural familiarity of the Indigenous boarding school practices and family-based education structure of their college. All students noted that the experiences of boarding school created family-like relationships between Indigenous boarders. Australian students identified the clash between home and school expectations, as well as the responsibilities of home and culture not being congruent with the structures of boarding school; and spoke of these incongruences as being difficult to navigate. My Aboriginality, life experiences, teaching and artistic practices and my personal pedagogy influenced this study in many ways. The relatedness of the Indigenous young women in this study with myself as researcher was essential in building relationships, which underpinned, shaped and encouraged the expression of student voice in this research.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Australian National University
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


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