X2 grew up in a pub in a small country town in Victoria, the youngest of four girls. Her family had a strong sense of community responsibility and supporting others. There were often ‘waifs and strays’ staying at the pub, some were single mothers and their children escaping violence. She was encouraged to be outspoken. An older sister constantly challenged authority.
Education was important to her family. The only further education open to girls in the district were teaching or nursing with bursaries attached to enable living away from home. One sister chose nursing. The other three siblings chose teaching.
She intended to train as a Primary teacher and won a teaching scholarship. When, aged 16, she gained a place in Melbourne University, she attended the Orientation Day, but got the Education Department to change her scholarship back to Primary Teaching Course at Teachers’ College. A good friend from school went as well, and they moved into the hostel attached to the College. X2 majored in Art. By the end of her training she felt she should have a year off between training and teaching to broaden her experience beyond formal education settings but the Education Department would not agree as her scholarship bonded her for three years. Following her sister’s example of resistance, she deliberately failed Art in her final year, so was offered the chance to repeat part of the course and resit the exam at the end of Term One the following year. As she had missed her school placement for the year she was able to take off the rest of the year. She worked in a bank and a hotel bistro, where she met many celebrities of the day and gained the out-of-school experience she wanted.
Her placement the following year was to Frankston where she spent 3 years, followed by one year in a smaller school further out of town.
She was subsequently appointed head-teacher at a rural school of just over 30 students. She was the first female head teacher appointed in the school’s 112-year history. She worked with an assistant teacher, a cleaner and the community as the school became eligible under Supplementary Grants Programme, the name given to the Commonwealth Disadvantage Schools Programme in Victoria.
On taking up her appointment, she was almost immediately in trouble with the district school inspector when she organised a barbeque at her home for the school community. The inspector, reading about the invitation in the local paper, rang to warn her not to get too close to the community. Her response was in keeping with her upbringing. She told him that the sooner the community got to know her the better and proceeded, not only with the barbeque, but with regular Euchre nights that became a community focal point. One of the successful programs was an artist-in-residence who led the painting of a huge mural on the community centre wall.
In these years it became clear that her student learning needs could not be met with textbooks – or even library books. Teachers needed to be creative and think outside what had once been accepted practice. She found resources like Ted Egan’s songs from Central Australia invaluable in teaching Australian History. Programs such as the artist-in-residence, with the whole community joining in painting a mural representing the community’s past and present, along with other activities based at the school, saw its nomination as the region’s entrant in the inaugural Victorian School Community Award.
After three years at the school, she took on the role of regional coordinator of the Supplementary Grants Programme. From this position she took a combination of family and long-service leave to have children.
On her return to the workforce she took a job in TAFE and discovered she liked teaching adults. She worked across the vocational and community development sectors, which confirmed her growing interest in community development. However, the Victorian government changed and funding for Community Development programs ended. She worked part-time with the Victorian Courts Network, training volunteers and running community development courses and also managed a regional Domestic Violence service. She moved to Melbourne and, now a single mother, became active in the Council for Single Mothers. She then worked supporting community development projects, initially with the Commonwealth Public Service throughout Australia, then in the Victorian public sector, travelling throughout the State, supporting the Rural Women’s Network, coordinating activities for women and then facilitating transport connections in rural Victoria. Much of her work was with Aboriginal women. When Victoria appointed a Communities Ambassador, X2 was appointed to accompany her as she visited, consulted with, and supported change in, rural communities. After the severe 2009 Victorian bushfires she undertook a similar role with Christine Nixon, Chair of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, coordinating the support and follow-up for the affected communities. This, she concedes, was a tough gig.
One of the communities X2 had worked with along the way was Wadeye in remote Northern Territory. She had been invited to work in the community but at the time her family commitments did not make that possible. Five years later her children were adults and independent. She accepted a community and economic development position with the women in Wadeye, where she stayed for seven and a half years before moving to Alice Springs for two and a half years. This was community and capacity building work, which she really enjoyed. She has now retired and moved back to Melbourne. In 2019 she enjoyed reviving her skiing skills!
X2 has never regretted her decision to train as a teacher. Her students, she says, always taught her more than she taught them. In her very first teaching round as a student teacher in a multicultural Melbourne school, she realised that education was a two-way process and she has never changed that view. She looks back on herself at that time as “a country hick” who benefitted from exposure to other world views. She learnt the importance of accepting help and the limitations of privilege. She also saw the importance of broadening the perspectives of both the children and adults she taught.
She has a strong sense of “othering”. As a red-head she always stood out as different and grew to empathise with those who similarly stood out as ‘other’. She recalls, when she was a child, an Aboriginal girl who came to stay with her family. X2 was not allowed to bunk down with this girl as she did with other local girls. She recognised and rejected the injustice and exclusion in this and the ‘otherness’ it implied. Teaching gave her ways to use this knowledge to achieve change.
She recalls a Grade 3 child who arrived at her rural school unable to read but very skilled at cricket. She was able to pair him with a bright Year 6 boy who helped him to read while learning cricket skills, especially spin bowling, from the new kid. Such interventions are imperative to overcome the cruelty of the playground, and to teach all kids to both accept and give support.
She still holds the excitement of seeing a Prep/Grade 1 child learn to read.
Her upbringing and experience have given her a strong sense of place, community and story. She learned to weave environmental and government information into the stories of individuals and communities, to make connections and create a narrative – to lead communities gently to change.