Sometimes it is good to back off from the argumentative and political and focus on stories that simply affirm goodness and humanity. There is one such story in today’s Sydney Morning Herald: Blazing a trail for half a century by Anna Patty, Education Editor.
EVELYN WEBB won a scholarship to became the first Aboriginal teacher in Australia in 1953, but was never given the opportunity to learn her own language.
“It’s a sadness, actually, and a disadvantage that we were never taught the Aboriginal language,” she said. “When I went to school, we were taught social studies and you learnt about other countries – but you didn’t learn about the indigenous people in Australia. It would have been really interesting to have Aboriginal language in the schools.”
Last night, the NSW Department of Education awarded Mrs Webb a special award for her service to teaching, following her retirement two weeks ago at the age of 73.
She began her teaching career aged 19 at Cabbage Tree Island School, south of Ballina, after the Aboriginal Protection Board awarded her a teaching scholarship to the University of Sydney. It was there that she witnessed Aboriginal students plucked from school as part of the Stolen Generation and families punished for shopping in a supermarket after breaking a curfew.
Asked for her view about the Federal Government’s plan to reduce welfare payments to families whose children played truant, she declined to comment.
“I won’t get into politics. I’ve got my personal opinion but it’s not going into print. Truancy is a problem across the board. It’s not a race issue.”
The acting Premier, John Watkins, paid tribute to Mrs Webb, who paved the way for 440 Aboriginal teachers now working in NSW. “She paved the way at a time when Aboriginal people were not recognised as citizens in the census nor had the right to vote,” he said.
…Mrs Webb has taught at primary schools, preschools and TAFE colleges in Grafton, Sydney and remote areas of NSW.
She took a break to make a full recovery from lymphatic cancer in 1997, before returning to teach Aboriginal Studies, literacy and numeracy at Grafton TAFE.
The NSW Department of Education’s director of Aboriginal Education and Training, John Lester, said Mrs Webb had inspired him during the early years of his career. “She is extremely warm, very methodical and has a great gift for making students feel comfortable with the education process, regardless of their racial background,” he said.
Did you know there were 440 Aboriginal teachers working in NSW? I didn’t, though I have met one or two over the years, particularly in 1993 when a research project I was doing took me to La Perouse Public School, among others in the Botany area.
Mrs Webb doesn’t care to make explicit political points; there are plenty of implicit points in that story for anyone who cares to see them though.
There are times one ought to be damn proud of public education in this state too, what it has done, and what it continues to do. Education privatisers, Quadrant readers, and the Howard government please take note.
Which brings me to The Rabbit, whose birthday is tomorrow. Forty years on from when I did he seems to have taken up the torch and is beginning to appreciate the point of it all. He is in a real school in South-Western Sydney where it can’t always be easy, but he has come to value his colleagues there and what the school is doing. I am sure he has his reservations and criticisms too, and so he should, but I was so happy to hear him talk of what he is doing in the way he did the night before last. Hang in there, Rabbit. 🙂