For more than two decades, Carolyn Tucker, an early childhood and primary school educator, has won the hearts of children lucky enough to be in her classroom at the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula. Outside the classroom, Carolyn greets parents with her trademark warmth and beaming smile. Carolyn is a community woman with a passion for education and a genuine desire to nurture every child – and parent – she meets.
Last year saw significant change in the world and in Carolyn’s life. “I’d always longed to teach in an Indigenous community after spending time in the Northern Territory,” she says. “In early 2020 I applied for a teaching role in a remote community.” After a lengthy process, Carolyn accepted a teaching principal role in a location more remote than she had first considered, so she and her partner Matt, both Peninsula residents, took a leap of faith and packed up their lives. The hardest part for Carolyn was leaving behind her four children. “The kids have always been the centre of my life, but they all insisted I go.”
Carolyn and Matt now live and work in Amanbidji, southeast of Katherine on the Nagurunguru Aboriginal Land Trust, nine hours’ drive from Darwin and five and a half hours from Katherine. The nearest town is Timber Creek 170km away. The community of Amanbidji is 65km along a dirt road from the Victoria Highway, close to the WA border. When wet season comes, accessibility is by plane only. About 120 people live in Amanbidji, all one mob. The school has 20 children enrolled; numbers fluctuate depending on cultural activities and seasonal changes. Many of the Elders speak Ngarinyman; for some Elders, English is their fourth language. Many of the children speak a mixture of Ngarinyman, Kriol and English.
“The most important part of my job is to build genuine, strong, positive relationships with the children, adults, and community. Without that, my work is useless. I make every effort to ensure learning is relevant, meaningful and engaging. We learn on and about Country. I have teaching assistants who are Indigenous community members, including a well-respected and knowledgeable Elder. Every day is different. Some days we jump in the ‘troopy’ to meet a plane at the airstrip, or we travel on Country visiting special places full of Dreaming stories. Other days we travel to local waterholes to swim, hunt or fish. Women and children catch fish and turtle to cook on the fire for lunch.”
One of the things Carolyn has learnt about living in community is the way Indigenous people share parenting, care and responsibility for the children. “In our white-fella world we tend to raise our children on ‘our own’. Here, aunties, cousins, uncles, sisters, brothers, parents, and grandparents all work together to look after the children. Family is everything. Grandparents are amazing and so many of the older women in community selflessly take on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren.
“Culture is strong; traditional customs are adhered to in the present day. It’s not something that used to happen. Culture is often referred to in the past tense, particularly in writing and documentation, but Culture continues in the present in the everyday life of these beautiful people. Living in community is a privilege unlike anything else. I wish every Australian could experience life in community – the simplicity, complexity, rewards, heartache, and the happiness.”