The joys of teaching, bringing knowledge into young minds and thwarting neuroplasticity from years of solvent abuse, malnourishment and neglect. The pain of separation from my Wife and young child.
Lonely, lonely days and nights in Glen Forrest, Western Australia. That enduring silence and rolling over only to find an empty bed. I grieved and I fell hard on my own sword.
As an Arts teacher in Thornlie Senior High School I encouraged my young men to think beyond the depravities of inhumanity on the fall of the twin towers in America. That getting their heads shaved was a natural collective response but largely misguided. The same of my young charges in John Forrest Senior High School. Kalamunda Senior High School where I also taught multi-media, Arts and numeracy/literacy.
The lock-step curriculum did my head in. I witnessed kids falling through the cracks, disappearing onto the street. So, I returned back to teaching at Swan TAFE, teaching numeracy & literacy CGEA units to Aboriginal women. You can picture it right ? Young Wadjela man with 17 women in the Nalla Maya program. Sheesh.
I was setup. They had me beg the next door-teacher for the use of her Wyte board markers. Looking into her eyes we knew they had set me up. Hours later over lunch we decided that we would be mates. Weeks later in my unit I had purchased in Maylands, Western Australia she unlocked a part of me I never knew existed.
Damn these witches. She dug her nails in and tossed her fiery hair. I rode my way in to step-fatherhood once again. We travelled the world together. Hong Kong, Spain, England, France....I miss her terribly at times and had hoped to explain why in the next chapter but here I am speaking to this. Losing children in the late stages of utero has that effect on you.
It cuts deeply into your soul. Keeps repeating as sobbing decades later. Sneaks up on you when you least suspect and despite your best attempts to put that young, fully formed foetus out of your mind still repeats through your dreams, hopes and aspirations. We never did recover from that loss....together we tried valiantly but to no avail.
The joy at learning of the pregnancy, announcing it across the Family, to my other two children and the first trimester of change, Hormones. Fattening. The screams of anguish from the loss. Wailing. Beating of fists against the cranium. Tears after tears. The sadness never goes away. It just changes through time.
In the letting go only then does peace prevail.
They were a dynamic mob, my women students, predominantly Nyungar. I also travelled out to Northam, Mukkinbuddin, Kellerberrin but my favourite being that of Quairading. Which is where I met old Mother XXXXXX
Sitting on the balcony one day utterly exhausted and perplexed as to why my students hadn't turned up for the fourth consecutive week I turned to this wise old lady on the balcony and asked flippantly, "...I wonder if these students will ever turn up?"
With that amazing and warm smile she slowly answered, barely audible, "....When you are ready Son...when you are ready." And so began my lessons in what it means to be on country, to be connected to the mob, what happens in Aboriginal communities and the whole history of which I naively transversed. I made every mistake there was to make and even in refusing to be married off to a young woman I'd been pointed to.
I drove over 700 kms in a round trip per week teaching in rural and remote communities till one day whilst back teaching my Nyungar ladies I was confronted by my boss xxxxxxxx who bless her heart gave me an opportunity of a life time in soul mining. She asked whether I'd be interested in teaching for three days a week at a local drop-in youth centre in an off campus arrangement delivering numeracy and literacy units to street kids.
Kids prostituting for cans of coke at age 13, solvent sniffing, homeless, addicted to heroin, speed and without any one loving them as we so often come to appreciate in our own parents. Kids that have been horribly abused, far deeper than my own sordid teen nightmare.
Perhaps it was my own story, tattoos, ability to understand their deep soul pain that they related to. Within weeks the centre director had agreed to my idea to draw and attract in a huge number of young street kids, to expand the program ten fold. I simply did a few things to make that difference. It became my full time job.
Seven days a week.
I got permission to completely 'bomb' the old bowling club where we were stationed in graffiti. To make it an architectural centre, a visual canvas. I began by hand painting the exterior walls in flat black paint. A curious kid with a gold tooth from the Juvenile Justice program laughed and said "....they are just going to bomb over that tonight when you are gone."
I asked who. Within minutes he became my first student. We measured up the wall, worked out how much paint we needed, the cost, volume, tax, ordering forms. He had completed his maths unit and that of his elective for the CGEA by the time we had prepared lunch together. I took a punt.
Had them build be a locked steel cage in my office. Spent the budget assigned to photocopier maintenance on spray paint. Nibs. Cans. Visiting guest graffers. We ran DJ gigs and by the end of two years just under 60 kids graduated with the equivalent of their school leaving certificate. Perhaps the only thing they would ever attain in an academic alternative, an educative arrangement as I coined and used many times over in future years.
Young men and women whose lives may have been shaped by the bonding in a program that gave them hope. Gave them options. Gave them a way out besides a pick (needle) in their arm and a fast road to hell. I know that I single handedly saved at least one life in that mob.
He still runs the same program I helped setup all those years ago.
When mobile phones were bricks. When SMS was the latest way to make contact with each other.
The dawn of mobology.