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From Sydney to Strelley

Sep 2, 2018 0

Books in Homes Role Model, author and Taysols representative Ian Trevena recently flew across Australia to visit Strelley Community School in Western Australia (WA) to attend a Book Giving Assembly.

Here is a report from his recent trip:

“Strelley Community School Principal, Kate McKenzie’s directions were clear: “Anout 100km from Port Hedland turn off the Broome highway onto the red dirt. Follow the railway for 3km then cross the tracks at the T-junction. In 20km you’ll come to the De Grey River and in another 20 you’ll see Warralong to the right. There’s the skeleton of a building—turn right past that and go through the gates. And watch out for cattle—they’re everywhere once you leave the highway. If you’re not here by 10 we’ll come looking for you.”

It was 8am and I was heading for Warralong—a community 130km south-east of Port Hedland. On a map of Australia, I was barely moving away from the coast but the Pilbara’s spectacular landscape of flatlands punctuated by ridges and rocky outcrops made it clear that getting lost would be a bad idea.

With luck on my side and Kate’s directions in hand, I arrived well before the clock. Warralong has no shops, no main road—just homes, a basketball court and the main campus of Strelley Community School. Population: 180. In summer it can hit the high 40s but today it was pleasantly mid-20s.

Strelley Community School was founded in 1976 on the principle of community control and a strong commitment to cultural maintenance. It continues with that mission today under the guidance of the Warralong community and Kate McKenzie, who had invited me to the end-of-term Book Giving Assembly to present pupils with books provided by Books in Homes with the support of my employer—Taysols. The 65 students of the Warralong campus live locally. For today’s assembly, their numbers have been boosted by a mob from the second Strelley campus located further north at Strelley Community.

Before the assembly, Kate took me on a tour of the school. Inside the cyclone-proof buildings the four classrooms look much like any others you might see—kids busy painting or tapping away on keyboards; walls covered in artwork and the fruit of science experiments; charts with numbers, letters, words, projects (the bilby is a popular theme); and large-format screens. One of the classrooms has a kitchen at one end. Kate explains that food is an important element at Strelley and that all children are given a full, healthy breakfast, typically of pasta, as well as greens from the school’s vegetable garden. Today, every classroom has quite a few empty chairs. End-of-term is one reason but Kate says attendance is an ongoing challenge.

As we walk, Kate introduces me to teachers, teachers’ aides (mainly ex-students who have stayed on or returned to Warralong) and students from kindergarten through to high school. I also meet the local Elder, Bruce Thomas, who is held in high regard throughout the Pilbara.

Outside, during the mid-morning break, children play without any segregation of age—anyone is welcome to join in whatever activity is taking place.

At 11.15am Kate and her teachers start mustering everyone into the high school classroom for the assembly. Parents take seats around the edge of the room, younger kids bounce around before settling onto the mats and bags on the floor, and teenagers drift in and out more slowly. Eventually everyone is settled and Kate kicks things off—her 12 years of experience evident. Each of the five classes (mobs) present to the assembly—some through music videos or other multimedia, others through collaborative painting. The quality is high and the themes are consistent—community, pride in self, and pride in traditional culture. I find myself wishing everyone I know could witness this display of authenticity and I pinch myself wondering how I managed to jag the assignment.

Awards are presented for literacy, numeracy, STEAM (Science, Technology, English, Arts and Maths), On Country Learning and attendance. Proud teachers. Proud parents. Lots of smiles all around. Soon it’s my turn to say a few words and present each child with the books they have selected from the Books in Homes catalogue. It’s a delight and a privilege and it’s over too soon. We head outside for a healthy stand-up lunch of fish, ham, chicken, beef and salad with just a smattering of tomato sauce.

Kate McKenzie and her team at Strelley Community School (Fran, Moemai, Lucy, Kendal, Vicki, Keith, Mary, Frank, Anne, Paul and Anthony) are worthy of great support. The work they do is outstanding, and Taysols is proud to support them through the Books in Homes Program.”

Story and photo contributed by Ian Trevena, Taysols Representative and Role Model, Sydney, NSW.

PHOTO CREDITS
Above: Ian Trevena with students from Strelley Community School, WA

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