Author, educator: Kaye Price

Conversations about her dreams growing up and how her culture influenced where she is today

Dr Kaye Price is many things: she was a primary school teacher, and later a principal. She has taught in her role as a university lecturer in both Queensland and the ACT, and is an Indigenous education consultant and curriculum writer. A published author, she was ACT Senior Australian of the Year in 2007, and has contributed extensively to many advisory and consultative committees. She is also an amazing mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and I am so proud and lucky to have her as my Grandma. Grandma instilled in me a love of learning, and of reading, and encouraged me to go to university, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. She has always made sure that we are proud of we are, who are family is, where we’ve come from and where we’ve yet to go.

Where did you grow up?

I was born when my parents lived at Hastings, in the south-east of Tasmania and when I was about two-and-a half years old we moved to Dover, a larger town a little north, but blessed with the most beautiful beach and countryside.

Can you tell us a bit about your mob who they are, where’s your country?

It’s not possible to be precise about my actual mob, as Tasmania has a discombobulated history.

A) Groups of Tasmanian Aboriginal people who were not hunted down, dispersed, stolen, enslaved, murdered were removed ultimately to Flinders Island.

B) Tasmanian Aboriginal people who were not among this group remained, some as servants, some as ‘adopted’ members of non-Aboriginal families, and some taken to other parts of Australia.

My mob is part of this group, remaining in the Hobart area and we have always believed we are Nuennone, a Language Group whose country is in the Channel area of Tasmania.

Why did you want to be a teacher?

I don’t remember why I wanted to be a teacher, but the idea was always with me, from when I was about five years old. One of my older sisters had been a teacher during the Second World War; not a registered teacher, but a “fill-in” as at that time the majority of teachers were men and many had enlisted, leaving a huge gap in the teaching force. I liked the idea that a teacher could be respected by students and parents alike, and it seemed an admirable vocation. Later, my much admired and envied sister Rosemary went off to teachers college and I so much wanted to be like her.

What challenges did you face as an Aboriginal teacher/educator (in the early days, and any challenges you, or Indigenous teachers more generally, still face today)?

Initially, I didn’t face any challenges as an Aboriginal teacher, as in Tasmania we didn’t really exist as Aboriginal people. At the time (1967) lobbying and interest in things Aboriginal by the general population had only just got off the ground. It wasn’t until a group of lobbyists visited Tasmania and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre was established that our identities were strengthened. My biggest problem was the resources we needed to use in the classroom that perpetuated the idea of “The Last Tasmanian”. I was supposed to let my students believe that Tasmanian Aboriginal people had remained stone- age people and that we didn’t have a continuing culture. When the curriculum (Grade 4) called for us to teach about Tasmanian Aboriginal people, I used to invite my sister Lennah West into the classroom and I will never forget her telling the children that it doesn’t matter how much milk you put in your tea, it is still tea.

It wasn’t until much later that I faced a kind of discrimination in the workplace. Principals would come up with excuses such as‘she gets headaches’ to prevent my achieving promotional positions. During the More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers told us that gaining promotion was difficult; one teacher in particular told us that she always came “second”. Other teachers talked about being expected to be an expert about all things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. One teacher was challenged in relation to her qualifications, as there seems to be a perception that Aboriginal and Torres Strait  Islander teachers are less-qualified, or “only get to teach because of their Aboriginality” so that the education system can reach targets.

What is one of your favourite memories of teaching?

One of my “favourite” memories of teaching is going to the school canteen one day and having a parent say to me ‘We didn’t know. Sam (not his real name) came home and told us about all the Aboriginal children who were taken away from their families.” This was after I had invited guest speakers – Leslie Whitton and John Williams-Mozley – to talk with the class about their experiences of being stolen children. What we do in the classroom can have a ripple effect.

You’ve recently released two books, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education’ and ‘Knowledge of Life’, an incredible accomplishment; how did they come about and how important was it for you to have these published?

Gosh. In 2011, Nina Sharpe, Senior Publishing Editor (at the time) at Cambridge University Press contacted another lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland about writing an undergraduate text. That lecturer referred her to me and after many discussions, I agreed to edit the text, but only if all the contributors were Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander. That text was published in 2012 and is now in its third edition.

‘Knowledge of Life’ was suggested as a companion edition to ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education’ and won a publishing award. It has some deadly contributors, but was not nearly as popular as the education text.

I feel that both books are important in the undergraduate world. First, the education text provides lecturers and students a bundle of firsthand truth-telling, content written and introduced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people themselves. It offers lecturers the opportunity to pick and choose from the chapter topics, and for the first time the third edition has a chapter about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges that supports the Australian Curriculum: Science.

Will you tell us a bit about your work with ACARA?

Back in 2009, there was some publicity about the omission of things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the burgeoning Australian Curriculum – a deathly silence if you like. At this time, I had decided to retire from paid work, but was approached by an ACARA representative to join the staff there. I agreed to go there for six months (because curriculum fascinates me) and in that time we established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Advisory Group, which continues to advise ACARA on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures Cross Curriculum Priority (CCP). At the time I worked with ACARA, focus was on the first four areas: Maths, English, Science and History. This is where I came across the most overt and covert racism I’ve ever experienced. Just saying.

With the Australian Curriculum (AC) in its infancy, there was a high turnover of staff members, especially within the area of Science. While we had Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and other experts advising, somehow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges didn’t make it into the Science curriculum, except for 13 elaborations. (Content is mandatory. Elaborations are not.) A similar thing happened within English – Content 1, and in Maths – Content 0.

While the Advisory Group agitated for changes, it wasn’t until late in 2016 that we were granted an audience with the ACARA Board. Result – form a Task Force and show us what you can do. Luckily, we were able to call on Joe Sambono, who had pointed out in 2011 at least 111 areas within the AC:Science where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges could add a wealth of.

What will it mean to have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges embedded in the Australian schools’ curriculum?

First, things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander will have their rightful place in what is, after all, an Australian curriculum. All students will be able to participate in culturally appropriate and scientifically rigorous classroom experiences, and most importantly, to quote ACARA, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students will be able to see themselves, their identities and their cultures reflected in the curriculum’.

Second, the AC: Science elaborations will give teachers the background knowledge (all new Elaborations have Teacher Background Information) to confidently teach aspects of Science using Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges. For example, if a teacher wants to have students looking at sound, a particular Elaboration will provide opportunities to develop an appreciation of how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ knowledge of sound propagation through different mediums influenced the design of technologies including sound instruments, herding and signalling devices.

What will/would it look like on an average school day?

On an average school day, all students will have the opportunity to participate in a curriculum that values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges.

Do you have any words of advice (or wisdom) for the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying education at the moment?

What can I say? There are more questions than answers. One of my granddaughters is in the second year of her Bachelor of Education degree course. Should she create waves by questioning the tasks set by her lecturer? In order to pass, should she abstain from querying the assignments that stereotype all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and assume that we are all the same? I don’t have the answer to this one.

But what I do know is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers need to have a strong support base. Often, when we get into the classroom/school, it happens that we suddenly become the “experts” on all things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. We suddenly find that we are responsible for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. My advice to any beginning teacher is to make it known that s/he has studied exactly the same course as all other teachers, we expect to teach all students, and that we are not the “go to” person for all things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Education is the business of all school staff members.

This article appeared in the autonomous Indigenous edition, Indigenous Honi 2018.