OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PAST (34)

Our last period of time at Warburton was marked by what I regard as some solid academic and personal progress by students. Parents and the community were generally supportive and could see our commitment to the educational roles we were filling within the community. Relating to people as equals was an attribute that built relationships. Not distancing from children in class, while at the same time ensuring respectful relationships also worked well. (That should be the way it is in all classrooms.)

Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (34)

From quite early in 1974, it was apparent that we were largely on our own when it came to remote area education. We had to be imaginative, resourceful and able to find answers to problems and solutions to challenges. This was both educationally and in the wider social context of our living and working at Warburton. I found that the twelve months we had spent there in 1970, certainly helped when it came to me fulfilling the role of headmaster.

In overall terms, 1974 was a challenging year, in part because we were beholden to a system that, with respect, did not put a lot of credence in or value on education for remote area Aboriginal children. That was well drawn to my attention when I approached senior officers in the Western Australian Education Department at the end of 1974 with a request for additional teaching staff. A very high level officer told me that if I could persuade someone to come to Warburton as a teacher in 1975, that would be fine. The officer however was not going to appoint someone as a teacher by way of normal process because that could be a pyrrhic imposition upon them.

The officer also told me that the Department had and kept Aboriginal schools open because of legislative requirements binding educational delivery. I was told by this person that a personal preference would be to close all Aboriginal schools, with the students and their parents being encouraged to go back to the bush where they all belonged.

(I am writing this section carefully, with a view to avoiding any possibility of identifying any person. I am also using language that is scripted to take out any unseemly language that was offered to me in dialogue.)

Suffice it to say I was able to identify a couple who were prepared to accept appointment from the commencement of the 1975 school year. We had one member of staff depart at the end of 1974 so had a net gain of one extra for the start of the 1975 school year.

Going forward into 1975 was not a happy period in overall living with the distress I felt as headmaster was the fact that the living and working needs we had, were brushed to one side by authorities with whom issues were raised.

It was hard to get any action to improve our conditions from the Western Australian Public Works Department as it was then titled. There was little response to needs from the education department although we were favoured with visits from time to time.

Although not able to prove ‘white-anting ‘ I suspect there was a little dissatisfaction with my insistence on us doing the best we could to develop quality teaching based on professional practice. In reflecting in years beyond Warburton on this issue and knowing more now than I did then about who was able to get into influential ears, I know this to be more than mere speculation.

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