6 months ago, I was living in my home town, struggling to breath every day. Depression had a grip on me... I wasn’t growing, I was sitting still, like the town I was surrounded by... I had no vision, no idea how I would escape the place I was in, a place with no new beginnings, no hope and no real change... It all became too much and I made the decision to pack up my whole life, my brother’s life and move us to Brisbane to start new in January 2013... I said change was gone come and it truely is amazing to see what life has had in store for me up until now...
My sole purpose of moving to Brisbane was to work, to have purpose and feel needed in society again... I hadn’t worked full time in over a year due to living in North QLD with limited job opportunities so when I was offered the job as an Indigenous Liaison officer at a primary school on my second week of living in Brisbane, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s not my usual industry of media but it has changed me as a person.
This month is 6 months since I’ve been living in Brisbane and my 5th month of working at a primary school. I have around 50 Indigenous kids that I look after. My job is to provide a service for the kids and their families and embed Indigenous culture throughout a school who has never had much involvement with Indigenous culture in the past. This hasn’t been easy. Although it has been a slow start, I have now implemented some changes into the school which I am proud of.. . The kids are all getting to know me now and it’s refreshing to walk into work and be loved... I love getting high fives and constantly hear ‘HI MISS WALLACE’ screamed at me from some small adult on a daily basis, it’s good to be needed...
The principal of our school is lovely and has really embraced every idea I have had for the school for our kids and our families. She has located me a room within the school that is the Indigenous room, where all of the school can come and learn about different aspects of Indigenous culture, do activities and feel comfortable to ask questions about Indigenous people. A place for sharing. The room is opened up to the whole school on Monday-Wed for ‘Indigenous activity club’ for different ages where I will read the kids a story time book or let them do indigenous colouring in or jig saws. The response has been amazing and the kids are all so proud of coming to the club on a weekly basis.
I am proud to also say that I organized for every teacher to partake in their first cross cultural training sessions for 3 weeks in a row, which gave them a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and people and how it relates to them as teachers who are teaching our next generation of Indigenous kids. Some were more interested than others, some weren’t but the important thing was that they have an understanding and from that, know why I am at the school and why our kids need extra support.
The thing about a job like mine is that it’s easy to make assumptions or to form stereotypes... ‘Why do the Aboriginal kids get support or need support’? It’s amazing to me that people still ask this question... This day in age, there is too much awareness around about closing the gap between my people and non Indigenous people, that there’s no excuse to be ignorant. I have been asked by several people about why I do the job I do, and it’s quite simple... If the Indigenous kids were up to speed and didn’t have a gap between them and the next child with their reading and writing and math, then I wouldn’t be needed at the school but these kids require one on one attention to improve their learning outcomes. If people don’t think that’s a priority and don’t think that its needed, then our society will suffer later in life when these kids slip through the high school system, drop out, be unemployed, commit crimes, make bad decisions and then die younger than the rest of Australia. Its a no brainer; if you educate kids while their young about their culture, about the importance of going to school and being able to read and write, they will at least have the chance to grow up to be a functioning member of society.
Ive always been about breaking stereotypes. I never want to be put in a box of what people expect from me as an Indigenous person and the work I do, I do for a wage to pay the bills yeah, but I also do it because I was one of those kids who slipped through the school system, who struggled to read and write and didn’t always have the support of my parents to sit down and do home work etc. This work is personal for me... It doesn’t pay a lot and I’ve had higher paid jobs in the past, but it’s been one of the most rewarding that’s for sure.
Segregation is not my thing. When I was going to school, there were often activities and events that only us Indigenous kids could do and that would prompt my non Indigenous class mates to ask questions or probe me about ‘why are you allowed to go to NAIDOC Lunch and we’re not’ etc.. It’s a fair call I suppose, and now working as a Liaison Officer, I want to open up those experiences for my whole school like the Indigenous activity club, for kids both black and white, for all teachers and communities members because the only way to break that ‘us against them’ is if you’re practical and willing to educated as a whole, instead of a group that can be taught... It’s a daily challenge but it’s one I believe I’m winning in so far.
In saying all of that, I have recently started up a year 7 Indigenous yarning circle purely for my Indigenous year 7 kids. No other teachers are allowed to attend or students, just me and my year 7 Indigenous students... Why? Because the kids I am working with have little to no understanding of their culture. Basic things like the colour of our flags, what does the word Indigenous mean, what does the word Aboriginal mean, where does their mob come from etc? There are certain things that these kids need to hear strictly from an Indigenous person because our whole culture is based on an oral tradition. The stuff they learn in the yarning circle can’t be taught in a class room environment and taught by a non Indigenous person. This is black fulla stuff, stuff that affects them now, so therefore they need a blackfulla to teach them. Indigenous kids, no matter where they are from, unless they are nurtured and made to feel comfortable, they will not talk about their culture openly, that’s why for the early stages of yarning circle, it is a closed off event just for the Indigenous kids and for myself and no other teachers, so they are comfortable enough to share things about themselves that they never would have in the past, because quite frankly, no one ever bothered to ask them.
The yarning circle happens once a week, discussing various cultural topics like family history, Indigenous history, identity etc. . The first session was a bit rough and the kids didn’t know what to expect but they are now at the point where they are asking questions and are telling others what they are learning at the yarning circle and are feeling more confident to raise their hand and say ‘YES I AM INDIGENOUS’ when other kids question their identity. It’s about making them strong as individuals before they get to an age as teenagers and not knowing a thing and not having the confidence to engage in conversations later in life with other Indigenous people or non Indigenous people, therefore getting more and more lost in their identity.
On top of my yarning circle, Indigenous activity club, and liaising with parents and the community, I have also recently started a learning intervention program based on children’s reading level results etc. I would say almost the majority of my kids are below the average for literacy and numeracy. When they talk about closing the gap, this is it in every sense of the word. The intervention program focuses on each individual child and sorts out what they need to improve their learning outcomes. The intervention program has begun with year 1 Indigenous students with basic reading techniques on a daily basis. The second part of my day is sitting with my year 2 Indigenous students helping them in class with their math work. It’s been that long since I have sat in a classroom and learned about sums and how to sound out words, but it’s been a good learning curve and I have the help of a fantastic literacy coach who guides me through all the right techniques and helps me design the program we are running for our school.
Life has been full on since I have been working and I am now back at the gym on top of my work and have now taken up a second job working back in Indigenous media, this time for television. It’s all very new and exciting but also very daunting to me that I am no longer behind a radio mic but now in front of a camera. It’s an opportunity and although I have literally no time left of my hands for anything else, I know it won’t last forever and I will just ride it out and see where it takes me. It feels good to be able to bring the nation stories of my people in a positive light. Media has been my number one passion since leaving school and I have worked hard to get where I am in the industry, but it’s no longer a priority for me after my mum passed away and my life changed after I took up raising my brother after she left us.It's merely opportunities when it comes along... I no longer rely on it or let it control my life like I did in the past, I guess I have just grown up. Media can be a little bit glamorous and a lot of people get caught up in the hype. I am privileged because the job I have at the primary school keeps me grounded when the media frenzy gets to me. I really am living a dream come true right now and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
I believe there’s a plan for everyone in life and we are all meant to be put on this planet to be the best human beings we can while we are here. In those hard times, we must learn to trust and to have patience because everything will fall into place if you let it and ask for it.
I am grateful to have gone through some of the hardest times in my life in the past year and come out on the other side a lot stronger and willing to adapt and sacrifice to get where I want to be. My brother is succeeding and is growing into a responsible young man with goals and aspirations and I believe the decision I have made to move us away from our families and our friends is slowly paying off and will be better for our futures in the long run... After a year of existing, I am finally LIVING... Feeling blessed....
One Love, One Life