Desmond Webster, an Aboriginal student from Wilcannia Central School in NSW’s far west, was suspended in July for leaving school at lunch-time to buy food for younger children who had not eaten all day because the school closed the canteen without notice.
On 6th December The Sun-Herald reported that twice this year, as many as 20 students were suspended at Wilcannia on a single day.
Clearly Wilcannia Central School falls into the have not category. It’s inconceivable that in 21st century Australia a school canteen could be closed without notice, leaving children without food for the entire day and resulting in the suspension of Desmond Webster for leaving the grounds during school hours. Why did Desmond leave the school grounds during school hours? To buy food for his younger cousins, fellow students at Wilcannia Central School, who had gone without food all day due to the negligence of the NSW Department of Education, which has overall responsibility for ensuring that all school canteens are properly staffed and managed.
Not only was Desmond suspended for putting his family and community first, a lesson we could all learn from, but it was done to him in the lead up to his HSC. To most young people in NSW, including Aborigines, the HSC is probably the most important exam that they will ever sit. A life’s future rests on this one exam and the NSW Department of Education, through its agent the Wilcannia Central School, has disadvantaged a student by puttting the proverbial boot into those who are already down.
What has the response from the NSW Department of Education been? You guessed it – another ‘talking heads’ session, move overtime for the fat cat Education Department Public Servants from Sydney. The result was to bench mark Wilcannia Central School against the bottom rather than the mean (which would include all schools in NSW, including the more affluent areas). The result – all is ok. Well, it ain’t ok.
When I contacted the office of the NSW Minister for Education to Ms. Verity Firth MLA for comment, I was told politely but firmly to go and “shove my question up my arse”. Grand eloquence straight from the office of the Minister responsible for the education of the young of NSW. As soon as I identified myself as being Indigenous, I was not even afforded the benefit of an original insult – opps comment, I meant to say.
It is worth comparing the situation at Wilcannia Central School to a school of haves. Recently I travelled to Ravenswood School for Girls on Sydney’s affluent North Shore with Isabel Coe of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, at the invitation of the school, to speak about the plight of Aborigines in 21st century Australia. I’m not sure what Ravenswood was expecting; colorful songs and dance followed by a stirring rendition of Mozart’s fourth performed on the Didjeridoo, at a guess.
What did they get? Well the truth straight from Isabel’s lips. The result? Well bugger me, the school had to write letters of apology to each student’s parents and provide counseling for their wards. Why? Because Isabel was a “little raw”. A little raw? Isabel called it as she saw it, she spoke about entrenched racism in the wider Australian Community, about racism and corruption in the NSW Police Service and god forbid, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.
Shit, SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, now that’s a four letter word for the glitterati of Ravenswood. I know that SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY has more than four letters, but Ravenswood is about breeding and glamour, not spelling! Apparently some Ravenswood parents were concerned that Isabel had brought ‘the gutters of Redfern’ too close for comfort to their middle class bastions of ignorance.
If we were to sit back and analyse where the ‘talking heads’ tasked with solving the problems of Wilcannia Central School come from, my guess would be, the middle class bastions of ignorance. They will wax lyrical about SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY and the plight of the black fellas of Wilcannia Central School, before ducking off for a latte or two. Just to rid the palate the lingering aftertaste of SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY!
As I sit here writing this while extracting the question I posed to Minister Firth from ‘my arse’ I marvel at the level of social ignorance, entrenched racism and plain old fashioned corruption (yes ignorance is corruption when you’re on the public payroll) still exists within the wider Australian community.
What will become of Desmond and his friends? Only time will tell, but in the eyes of the inhibitors of the middle class bastions of ignorance any problems they might encounter in life will be their own fault, nothing to do with the ‘talking heads’ mentality of the Public Service, more concerned with the next (non-productivity related) pay rise, leaving no money in the budget for another teacher or food for schools and canteens like Wilcannia. That’s a high pice to pay for the increase in the price of the public servants’ lattes in Sydney!