SETuP for life
Click to start
"What is solar energy?" teacher Jestin Palakal asks his classroom of Aboriginal children at Maningrida, a large Indigenous community on the Arafura coast 500 kilometres east of Darwin into Arnhem Land...
Outside it's late morning and the sun beats down. Must be over thirty degrees for sure, not a cloud in the sky.
Maningrida is one of the first Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory to get a solar farm - huge banks of solar panels on Indigenous owned land are helping to power homes and cut down on diesel from generators.
The kids in 'Buffalo Class' at Maningrida School - the grades four, fives and sixes - have been working on a project about what's happening in their own backyard.
Jestin, from India, into his fourth year teaching the kids in the remote community, has them drawing diagrams to help them understand.
They're simplified, of course, but with simplicity comes a kind of clarity - sunlight hits solar panel, energy goes to power line, power goes to house.
The kids might not yet fully grasp the morality of renewable energy and the virtues of using less fossil fuels. They just know that the sun, a powerful force in Indigenous dreaming and stories, can help them.
"What is solar energy?"
The answer comes from Tyreese Pascoe, who is 11, in a blue Spiderman tee-shirt. "The sun!" he says, his hand high in the air.
"Good," says Jestin. "The sunlight falls onto the solar panels, then what happens?"
"It goes into the house and makes the power on," says Tyreese, beaming. "Energy goes into street lights, the lights come on, the fans, the air-con."
"Yes," says the teacher. "We need this electricity now so we don't need diesel and petrol in the future, it is called clean energy.
When the diesel burns it goes up in the sky, and what happens to the earth? It gets warmer and the ice melts and the sea rises. Can you tell me some other issues with global warming?"
"Drought," says Tyreese. "And floods."
Maningrida sits at the very top of Australia's top end. This remote settlement's new solar capability is part of a $55 million Solar Energy Transformation Program (SETuP) through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
ARENA is providing $27.5 million towards the $55 million total cost of Solar SETuP, a project jointly funded by Northern Territory Government and led by the territory's Power and Water Corporation.
It will eventually generate solar energy across 28 remote communities in the Northern Territory, with at least one project reducing the community's use of diesel fuel by 50 per cent.
Giver of life
By Chris Johnston
The sun and its power is central to most Indigenous Australian cultures. It is a positive, female force, lighting her fire in the morning and extinguishing it at night.
"The sun is the giver of life," says Daly River (Nauiyu) elder Mark Casey.
Think of the Aboriginal flag, designed by a Luritja man from Central Australia and first flown in 1971. The black symbolises the Aboriginal people and the red the earth and ochre. The yellow in the middle is the sun, which rises to renew life every day.
There are many Indigenous stories about the sun and stars in Aboriginal astronomy - such as the Emu across what we know as the Milky Way. Astronomy is thought to have been used by ancient people for longer than the Greeks. Some Arnhem Land people have dreaming stories explaining shifting stars and planets, the sun and moon, and tides and eclipses.
A story from the Yolngu has her (the sun) waking up in the east and lighting a fire, carrying a bark torch across the sky and spilling red ochre, colouring the clouds red.
Similar solar installations on Indigenous land have been built in Canada, most notably on land belonging to the Lubicon-Cree First Nation from Alberta, in the middle of Canada's oil grounds. Indigenous Business Australia say that in this country Indigenous communities can benefit through "increased energy security" and a hope that with better power infrastructure more people can "return to country."