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Sacred Heart School, Beagle Bay, Western Australia

I feel like I’m teaching my own family

The context | Opportunities to study | Wayne Kelly's story | Mary O'Reeri's story

The context


Beagle Bay is about 120 kilometres north of Broome on the Dampier Peninsula.

Trappist Fathers arrived in the area in 1890 but in 1901 they were replaced by the Pallottine Fathers and Brothers. In 1907, the St John of God Sisters began to run a mission school at Beagle Bay and in 1918 the famous church was opened.

The Beagle Bay Mission subsequently became home to Indigenous people from across the Kimberley and further afield. Today, Beagle Bay has an Indigenous community of about 250 people and the Sacred Heart School has about 110 students.

Opportunities to study

In 1994, Bernadette McPherson and Sister Pat Rhatigan of Notre Dame University, Broome, visited the Beagle Bay School and held meetings with the School Board, Principal and Aboriginal Teaching Assistants (ATAs). The visit was to explain the new VET courses that were about to begin and to seek the support of the school and the interest of the ATAs through enrolments.

Subsequently, four ATAs enrolled in the Off-Campus Teacher Education Program to study for the Associate Diploma in Community Teaching. The four were to be part-time students. They were all mature aged and had family responsibilities, which meant that they were dependent on their school incomes. Additionally, however, the support of the school ensured that they would be able to have some study time during school hours and would be able to attend block study sessions at the university in Broome.

An important aspect of this program was that a Study Centre was established at Beagle Bay and supported by the St John of God sisters. It has changed location several times, but is now established in a well-equipped building with air-conditioning, furniture and computers. The St John of God sisters have also provided a resident tutor, Sister Sheila.

In the next two years, some students left the program for family or other reasons and others joined. But, in 1996, the first three completed the first year of the Associate Diploma in Community Teaching and in 1997, two students graduated with the Associate Diploma. Others were beginning the course, or taking up the opportunity to study other courses, such as the Certificate in Education Practice.

It had always been intended that students could articulate into higher level courses and at the end of 1997, this took place. The two graduates of the Associate Diploma obtained scholarships from the Catholic Education Office (CEO) and enrolled in a Bachelor's degree course.

In 2000, Wayne Kelly graduated with the Bachelor of Arts (Education) and he was followed in 2002 by Mary O'Reeri, who graduated with the Bachelor of Education (Primary). Both Wayne and Mary were employed as teachers at Sacred Heart School, Beagle Bay, after their graduation. Their own comments about their experiences are below. Other students are pursuing a similar path, or are undertaking other studies. It is expected that two or three others will graduate as teachers within the next few years.

The general pattern for off-campus students is that they spend the first week of every semester at the Broome campus of Notre Dame University. The university makes available its creche facilities for those with young children. In the first week, students have an introduction to the course and also have the chance to meet lecturers, tutors and other off-campus students. In the seventh week of the semester they return to Broome to attend a week of lectures and discuss progress. They also leave their communities for periods of teaching practice, at places ranging from Bathurst Island to Perth or remote communities in the Northern Territory.

These days, a condition of employment for new ATAs at Sacred Heart School, Beagle Bay, is that they undertake further studies in education, and it is expected that they spend at least one hour of each teaching day in the Study Centre. In this way they can learn about teaching at the same time as being involved in the classroom.

The overall aim of the program is to produce qualified Aboriginal teachers, while at the same time offering education to anyone interested in other university courses, literacy, arts, spirituality or a variety of courses of interest to local people.

Wayne Kelly's story


Wayne Kelly

Wayne graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Education) in 2000. This is his story.

"I come from around Geraldton. That's where I spent most of my early life but we travelled around a bit and I went to about 20 different schools. I was an ATA before I came to Broome but I was here for a conference, took one look at the place and wanted to come back. So the following year I was back as an ATA. My wife's from Beagle Bay and I met her at the conference as well.

The principal here at that time had been my Year 11 and 12 teacher at Marrawa. I was happy going along as an ATA but, with his support, when the Off-Campus Teacher Education Program came along, I thought about studying. I started with the Community Teaching course. You don't have to do that before you can do the degree but it was good because it was a refresher and I thought I needed it.

It was great because there were ATAs from all over the Kimberley there at the Notre Dame campus in Broome and we all knew each other. And we got to visit schools from the Northern Territory all the way down to Perth, state schools as well as Catholic schools." Read more of Wayne's story…

Mary O'Reeri's story


Mary O'Reeri

Mary graduated in 2002. This is her story.

"I was born here in Beagle Bay and went to St Mary's College in Broome. I started Year 12 but didn't complete it.

Then I met my husband and had my first child. Way back in 1985, I was first employed by Catholic Education as a Teacher Assistant in Broome and I moved back here in 1990 as a Teacher Assistant.

In my upbringing there was always a white teacher in front of Aboriginal students and I really, really believe that we need our own people there. That was my vision, that was my dream. I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to start as a Teacher Assistant at an early age and that gave me the opportunity to follow my dream.

And then when Notre Dame began the Off-Campus Teacher Education Program I was lucky again because it was another opportunity. Then Catholic Education gave me a scholarship. So I could follow my vision, my dream." Read more of Mary's story…


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