The Warmth of the Northern Territory

The first time I visited the Territory, I was welcomed with open arms by a crew of young people reigning from the tropical Top End all the way down to dry Alice Springs, at a music amphitheatre inserted amongst the otherworldly Macdonald Ranges.

The second time I visited the Territory, I saw schools that were catering to the most diverse cohorts I had ever witnessed, and doing so with smiles, resourcefulness and resilience.

The third time I visited the Territory, I came with a carload of my personal belongings, my dad in tow and a persistent slick of wet season sweat across my upper lip; I was moving here.

With its unexpectedness, uniqueness, unbound diversity (of landscapes, people, cultures), the Territory gets under your skin. It is a place that demands attention, and once witnessed, is difficult to turn away from. This is the experience that fellow TFA Associates, Alumni and I had on the NT Learning Trip; what we saw, we felt moved to become a part of. Across Darwin, Katherine, Ngukkur (a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land), Tennant Creek and Alice Springs, we had the privilege of visiting schools, meeting Principals, teachers and students, and gaining invaluable insight into the workings of the Northern Territory educational landscape. It was through links made during this trip that I ultimately connected with my current Principal and began the work that I now do.

Amongst almost ten schools visited, one school stood out for me. Although the pace in schools is always frenetic, there was a certain warmth here that penetrated all aspects of what I saw: conversations with the Principal, classes, interactions in the yard. For a year, this feeling stayed with me – I had fallen in love with this school. Twelve months later, the school’s and my availabilities lined up like jigsaw pieces and I was hired. Almost two years later, I’m a classroom teacher at a small T-12 school in Katherine and still falling madly in love: with the school’s vision, the students, my colleagues and my environment.

Compared to my previous work in regional Victoria, my work here is just as demanding but in different ways. In the same classroom, my students write about their Gurindji ancestors, managing Country with the junior rangers, growing up in the Philippines with grandma while mum went ahead to Australia to build a better life, visiting family in India, learning how to ride a bucking bull and living in a caravan. In a single day, I teach thirty of the same students that I know inside out three different subjects, responding to their levels, interests, moods (and the weather).

Teaching in the Territory feels simultaneously like hard, meaningful frontline work, and a delicate, privileged gift. Although there are challenges: some students’ literacy levels are five or more years below their age, attendance fluctuates like the waterline of the river, and access to resources and opportunities stunts aspiration, the preciousness of being privy to living Indigenous culture, of being trusted by students whose lives are in constant flux, and of opening horizons like an incredible stage behind thick felt curtains is palpable. On top of that, reflecting on my day against the backdrop of an expansive powdery sunset of gum trees or letting it wash away in a waterfall regularly feels dreamlike.

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