Only 1 in 5 Indigenous kids can read. Hands up if you care.


Imagine trying to get through life without being able to read and write. Most people would rarely give a thought to how challenging life might be without these basic skills, but for an unacceptably large percentage of Australia’s Indigenous population, this is a reality.

Imagine not being able to drive a car because you can’t sit for the driver’s test, imagine not being able to use an ATM or apply for a job because you can’t fill out a form, or worse yet, imagine you can’t read the instructions on a medicine bottle to give your child the correct dosage.

It’s a staggering thought but this is what the future looks like for the 4 out of 5 Indigenous children in remote regions of Australia who can’t read or write.

The reasons behind this statistic are many and often complex. Many children suffer hearing problems, English is often spoken as a second language, and reading a book before bedtime isn’t always a cultural norm.

Mary-Ruth Mendel and I started the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation charity 12 years ago after Mary-Ruth’s work as one of Australia’s leading Speech Pathologists was featured on a popular news program.  In the week following we received 1000s of calls from parents, schools, the unemployed and the disadvantaged desperate for help. It was an experience I will never forget. It may sound naïve but I was never conscious of the extent of literacy problems in a country such as ours, and the effects not being able to read had on so many people’s lives.

However, there is some good news in that we can all do something very simple to help. The Wall of Hands Appeal is The Australian Literacy & Numeracy Foundation’s (ALNF) annual fundraising and awareness campaign.

This November all Australians have the chance to raise their hands in support of Indigenous Literacy by donating as little as $5 to the online Wall of Hands – . Together we will work towards achieving 100% literacy rates among Indigenous children in Australia.

The MM office got into the spirit of things. Hands up!

Richelle Watson, a year 12 student at Tennant Creek High School is a great example of the success of ALNF’s programs. If you happened to meet her on the street, she would strike you as a normal, sociable, carefree teenager, particularly with her charismatic smile and relaxed swagger. Since the ALNF’s program came to Richelle’s community she has not only developed a very high standard of literacy but she is also playing a very important role to the younger students. As a role model and mentor, Richelle teaches, discusses and explains stories, words and concepts in English and her native language of Warrumungu.

The way the children clamber over one another to show her their work, to request games and activities and to ask her questions is proof that she is viewed as a genuine role model to the students. Richelle hopes to go onto further education and eventually wants to become a teacher.

Check out to see the smiling faces of these children who have been given the gift of reading and writing.

Research indicates that breaking the inadequate literacy cycle helps families break through the cycle of poverty and inferior health. In the long term, these outcomes will lead to higher employment levels and a better life expectancy for Indigenous Australians.

Let’s prove to Australia that we do care about this issue and that reading and writing is a basic human right for all of us!

You can submit your own ‘hands up’ photo on the website. Ours is here. And donate while you’re at it.

Do you remember who taught you to read, and what book started it all off?