Spotlight On Wunan Staff – Grace Lewis

13 December 2012

My mother is from the Bard tribe on the Dampier Peninsula, West Kimberley.  My three brothers, sister and I grew up with tall stories about the salt water people, diving for pearls and the Chinese men chanting “olanges for sale”.

My father is from country Victoria, with a strong Irish background.  Ever the explorer he left Melbourne and the restraints of mainstream society, heading north to the Kimberley’s. He worked in many missions as an electrician: Balgo, Kalumburu, La Grange and eventually Lombadina where he meet my mother.

As a family they moved to Geraldton where all 5 children were born.  Dad now tells stories of how the move was mums decision as she wanted what was best for her children in regard to education and choices for their future.  We all attended catholic schools in both primary and secondary, which for a single income family was a massive endeavour. Dad paid for the education through long hours of work and overtime.  This dedication was rewarded with all 5 children having attended university.  Mum had the job of raising 5 unruly and lively children on the outskirts of the town. We grew up swimming at the beaches in summer and playing every form of sport you can poke a stick at. My younger sister and I, as the minority in that we were the only girls in the group, were not to be deterred at all, managing to keep up with the boys at every turn.  We relished the fact that we were “Tom Boys”.  Basket ball proved to be the sport of choice for me and I was fortunate enough to have strong role models to encourage my emerging leadership skills.  My parents commitment, especially my Dad’s, saw me develop exceptional skills which enabled me to represent Western Australia at the National Championships.   School was also a source of support as I was elected by the student body as a class leader in every school year and then in my final Year 12 I was elected as a school prefect.

In 1989 I left my hometown of Geraldton and moved to Perth to study Early Childhood Education at Edith Cowan University. While in Perth I resided at St Thomas Moore Residential College and was elected as the Sports Representative on the Women’s Intercollege Sports Association.  On two consecutive years I led the girls of St Thomas to win the WISA shield and was voted sportswoman of the year.

In 1993, following the death of my grandmother and a close personal friend, I left Perth for a 2 year teaching round in the Kimberley. I went back to my mother’s community to teach at Djarindjin Lombadina Catholic School, it was a very emotional homecoming for all involved but especially my mum.  In 1995 I won the National Excellence in Teaching Award (NEiTA) for the educational outcomes reached by the Pre-Primary and Year 1’s at the school.    Some 19 years later I still reside in the Kimberley, having never felt the urge to go back to Perth or the restraints of mainstream society.  I am now married to a devoted husband and have 3 beautiful boys who are all Kimberley born and bred.  I have worked in the catholic education system, the state education department, TaFE and Wunan.  In 2010 I completed my Masters in Early Childhood Education and a Diploma in Management.

While working at Wunan as the Office Manager the Education Manager, Michele Pucci, secured funding from DEEWR to facilitate a Parent and Community Engagement (PaCE) and chose myself to head the project.  PaCE commenced in May 2011 and is concluding in December 2012.  The PaCE program is essentially an Action Learning Approach in the East Kimberly and will present qualitative and quantitative evidence to DEEWR.  Wunan also partnered with the Ord Enhancement Scheme (OES) who provided funding to boost the PaCE outcomes, as a result the PaCE program within the 18 month timeframe:

  • Employed 8 local Miriuwung Gajerrong (MG) people in Kununurra and 1 Jaru person in Halls Creek.
  • Engaged with 297 families, the DEEWR target  was set at 180
  • Facilitated 290 workshops, the DEEWR target was set at 80.
  • Established 4 playgroups linking the families with children under 5 with the schools in both towns, providing support to the parents and the schools in establishing solid relationships to benefit the children’s educational journey.
  • Provided a robust framework for further engagement between Wunan, the schools, service providers and the community.

The outcome has been positive due to the resilience and cohesive strength of the PaCE team as a whole which has been strongly supported by Michele Pucci, as the Education Manager.

On a personal note in the future I plan to complete my studies and obtain a Doctrine in Early Childhood Education, with a strong emphasis on the ever changing face of multi-cultural Australia and the important role Indigenous Australia must play.

Topic: Foundations