AT 8:30 a.m., five-year-olds at Nightcliff Primary School are saying Selamat pagi, Ibu Guru (good morning, teacher) in Indonesian. At 3:30 p.m., briefcase-toting public servants across town are saying Selamat sore, Pak Guru (good afternoon, teacher).
At all times of the day, wherever you go in this city, someone is learning Indonesian. It is the second language of the town, and some analysts estimate that in 10 years nearly 40 percent of Darwin will have some competency in it.
Aside from Indonesian, schools also teach Vietnamese, Bahasa Malay, French, German, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese.
Australia has a stated national commitment to develop stronger links with Asia. The education programs in Darwin are perhaps the most concrete evidence of bringing this goal to all levels of society.
In 1990, at the instigation of the Northern Territory Chief Minister Marshall Perron, the Department of Education developed and launched a new program, Cultures and Languages of Asia for Specific Purposes (CLASP). It is an intensive program designed for people having contacts with Asians or wishing to work or do business in the region.
The program was set up to enable Northern Territory public servants to become Asia-literate, but has also widened its outreach to members of Commonwealth departments and private enterprise. ``It's becoming increasingly harder for public servants to get jobs if they don't have Asian-language skills,'' says Carl Walker, CLASP program manager.
Standing in front of a blackboard, with an Indonesian national emblem overhead, Mr. Walker talks about what you do in a kantor pos (post office).
Several classmates need the language because they encounter Indonesian fishermen who've crossed into Australian waters. Roy McKay, a foreign-fishing liaison officer with the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries, says: ``The class is giving me insight into the culture - enough to converse with them.''
Andrew Burnside, a consulting engineer, says he's ``looking to do work in Indonesia. I understand there's a lot of infrastructure development going on there.''
The 100-hour course takes 10 weeks. And the class will get a real opportunity to go to the kantor pos, because the final week of the class is spent in Indonesia. Participants are expected to use their skills to perform practical assignments, like making a friend.
``One hundred hours won't get one fluent, but it will enable someone to socialize, an important step in Asia,'' Walker says.
At Nightcliff Primary, the youngest students call out Indonesian translations for ``This is Ada's bird. This is Tom's dog.''
In Neville McCluskey's 7th grade art class, as lilting Indonesian music plays in the background, students make Indonesian puppets for the upcoming Bougainville Festival, which celebrates the many cultures of Darwin.
Acting principal Tad Henry, who sports a floral print shirt and a chest-long, white beard, says that the focus for the whole school is Asia. ``We incorporate Indonesian into six core-curriculum areas. And we started imbedding cultural studies into all areas of the curriculum last year. If a social-science class is studying figures and graphs, we have them take the source from Asia.''