UK United Kingdom

Getting remote Indigenous communities online

Most remote Australian Indigenous communities have little or no access to digital technology. Last year, three internet-enabled terminals were installed as a trial in the remote communities of Burraluba…

Many remote communities have been cut off from the internet, missing out on services and skills others take for granted. yaruman5/flickr

Most remote Australian Indigenous communities have little or no access to digital technology. Last year, three internet-enabled terminals were installed as a trial in the remote communities of Burraluba Yuru Ngurra (Halls Creek WA), Binjari Top Camp (NT) and Bana Yarralji Bubu (Shiptons Flat QLD).

The terminals are robust, free standing units with vandal-resistant screens, keyboards and touchpads, designed to run 24/7 in the harshest conditions. Each has three screens and keyboards so several people can use them simultaneously. Educational games, books, and a child-friendly copy of Wikipedia were included as part of the content.

The trial ran from mid-November 2012 to April 30 2013 and demonstrated that the terminals are a valuable community resource, encouraging digital literacy in all three communities.

Usage data provided by the communities, electronic usage data and visits and observations confirm that:

  • community members have been able to interact with and use the terminals relatively easily

  • the terminals were well used by both children and adults. Both groups accessed a wide range of online and non-online content

  • children, not surprisingly, learned how to use the terminals very quickly and used them extensively for educational purposes

  • adults could do banking and buy goods online (this was previously impossible).

Where were the terminals installed?

The robust terminals gave kids skills they’ll need for the future. Wunan Foundation

All three communities were very positive and grateful that their community had been chosen for the trial. All think the terminal is an enormous asset for their community, helping community members in many different ways including educationally and socially.

Burraluba Yura Ngurra, Halls Creek (WA) The hostel, managed by the Wunan Foundation, is just outside Halls Creek and is a relatively small community. The terminal in this community was heavily used. The hostel manager and his wife introduced the adults to online banking and websites such as Some of the adults used Skype for communication. The women were encouraged to shop online and bought materials for sewing, the manager’s wife at the hostel has been using this activity to improve literacy.

The hostel manager reported that apart from using the internet, the children also read books and played games (those provided all have an education focus, supporting either numeracy or literacy). Children also used the terminal extensively for school work.

Binjari Top Camp (NT) This was the largest community, 20km from Katherine. People in this community used the terminal to watch YouTube videos uploaded by another community, and it encouraged them to be involved in different activities. Children used online educational materials and adults kept up to date on local news and weather.

Before this, there was no access to the internet and community members had minimal internet knowledge. The trial changed this.

Visitors from other communities used the terminal at this site. Children showed their parents how to use the terminal and are sharing with them the work they doing at school. It has helped build computer literacy among the adults. Community representatives expressed surprise at the positive impact this has had on their community.

Bana Yarralji Bubu (Shiptons Flat, Qld) Shipton’s Flat is near Cooktown. This is a small community. The children here find the terminal attractive, spending time using it after school. Adults mainly used it to process Centrelink requests, and look at educational websites, local news and weather forecasts. They also used Skype. One eight-year-old child said they thought it was the biggest change they had experienced in the community.

It is clear from this trial that installing robust computer terminals available 24/7 is of major benefit to Indigenous communities. Many locals now have better computer skills and a much greater awareness of computer technology as a result of the trial.

Robust terminals can and do support children’s education, developing skills they would not otherwise have.

They have significant potential for remote communities. Such technology can be used to support language and culture and offers opportunities for locally developed content.

This trial was funded by the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) with assistance from Australian Private Network (APN) and researchers from the Faculty of IT at Monash University. The terminals were designed and developed by The Meraka Institute which is the ICT division of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

9 Comments sorted by

  1. Henry Verberne

    Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

    An interesting and encouraging trial! Hope it is followed by a long term project of providing internet access to isolated indigenous communities.

  2. R. Ambrose Raven


    Possibly one should have regard to a broader strategy?

    In 2008-09 Australian government Aboriginal expenditure reached $22 billion. Yet separate government reports note “dismal” results.

    Doing what is needed would probably cost less, achieving much more than now because it would be focussed on needs, a long-term view, and socially-oriented decision-making. When the roads and railways were maintained by government operations, they did a better job more cheaply than their profit-seeking replacements…

    Read more
  3. Tom Fisher

    Editor and Proofreader

    Nice cover pic, reminds me a lot of when I was a kid.

    But, back to the topic, what's most telling to me here, having grown up out there, is the "vandal proof screens" and all that stuff. You cannot force something on somebody when they don't value it, don't see the point in it, and worse perceive it as just more whitefella stuff.

    Communities will only come effectively online with their own computers sitting on ordinary desks, safe from being vandalised because valued and purchased of their…

    Read more
  4. Paul Prociv

    ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

    Thanks for an interesting, and somewhat upbeat, article. It’s reassuring that indigenous folk from remote communities have a facility with digital technology, proving they’re normal human beings. With a bit of luck, it will stimulate their curiosity about the wider world, and so encourage them to travel (and perhaps look for jobs) further afield, not just to related communities, and discover just how the big world works, how wealth and material goods are created. Otherwise, I fear this technology will simply reinforce the cargo cult mentality that is rampant in such communities. And there is also the insidious issue of pornography, which will inevitably be discovered on the internet by the males, both young and old, thus further undermining social stability.

    1. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Difference is, it's Gadiya, the whitefella, who is sedentary, white kids who sit there glued to their X-Box, obsessed with Facebook, as if that's the reality.

      It is the whitefella who not only produces pornography, but distributes and consumes it. The Los Angeles porn business alone is bigger than the entire global computing and IT industry combined, at over $US3,100 per second in online credit card transactions. The biggest per capita consumers are Japan and South Korea.

      Yet, by some bizarre…

      Read more
    2. Paul Prociv

      ex medical academic; botanical engineer at University of Queensland

      In reply to Tom Fisher

      Can't argue with anything you said, Tom, although we can't do much about the past, which obviously has a lot to account for. But for some reason, we're permanently stuck in the present. Nevertheless, if folk in remote communities expect dumb-arse Gadiya pricks to fund their life-styles, to provide them with food, housing, health-care, entertainment and transport, they should not be surprised to find that those same Gadiyas might have an opinion about maybe where things could be done a little differently. And such opinions need not be devious or malicious.

    3. Tom Fisher

      Editor and Proofreader

      In reply to Paul Prociv

      Two thing you've declined to acknowledge, in the present and long into the future.

      First, folk in big cities expect dumb-arse Gadiya pricks to fund their life-styles, to provide them with food, housing, health-care, entertainment and transport without bothering whether those same Gadiya have an opinion on the matter.

      Second, since Mabo and Wik, Aboriginal nations on this continent are co-sovereign with the crown, not under Land Law but Common Law. On any crown land, anyone wanting to use that…

      Read more
  5. Sybil Free


    What about Government programs of the past? No mention of years of programs to get remote communities online under Dept of Communication IT and the Arts.
    Please do your homework before writing an article.

    Disgusted. Sybil Free

    1. Jane Rawson

      Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

      In reply to Sybil Free

      Sybil, we didn't ask the author to address the history of internet usage in remote communities, just to discuss this specific trial.