Jenny makes learning a priority

JENNY AT WORK: NAIDOC Person of the Year Jenny Craigie, at work in her office at Sunset School. - Picture: LIZ MACINTYRE/2599
JENNY AT WORK: NAIDOC Person of the Year Jenny Craigie, at work in her office at Sunset School. - Picture: LIZ MACINTYRE/2599

MOUNT Isa's NAIDOC Person of the Year Jenny Craigie is a diminutive mother of three, grandmother of five and a passionate advocate for education for Indigenous children.

Jenny started her career as a teacher aide at Sunset School seven years ago and after four years was appointed Indigenous Education Worker at the school as a result of her intensive work with Indigenous students.

"Being here, seeing that a lot of kids weren't coming to school or only once or twice a week, I started visiting their homes to see why," Jenny said.

She found the absences were for a lot of little things: no lunches, no coat in the cold weather, no shoes and no clean clothes.

"All these little things I thought could be overcome so they could come to school."

She started a shoes and clothing pool at school.

"We had showers and clean clothes available for them.

"They didn't keep them; they had to leave the shoes at school.

"Then we started giving them breakfast every morning and started up a lunch program for those who didn't have lunch."

Jenny explained that a lot of the parents were from low-income families and were from the bush.

"They haven't been taught how to live the European way; they've been living in the bush."

Part of the problem is the Northern Territotry intervention, she says.

"We have a big problem here with movement into Mount Isa, but I believe every child has the right to an education."

Sunset School now has a bus to pick up children who live further out of town.

Part of her job as Indigenous Education Worker is to promote cultural awareness among the teachers at the school.

"It's important to let them know how Aboriginal people live.

"We take a bus tour and show the teachers how these kids actually live."

Born and raised in Mount Isa, Jenny is from the Waluwara people from the Georgina River/Dajarra area.

Her mother and grandmother were maids on stations, paid in blankets and other goods, never in cash, she says.

Her grandmother was a jillaroo and pretended to be a boy so she could work on the land as a jackaroo with her father.

"She gave herself a name, 'ShareBoy' and cut her hair short," Jenny says.

Education was important to her family.

"We went to school every day, we weren't allowed to stay at home."

She is exceptionally proud of her three daughters, Naomi, Tiarna and Nadine, who nominated her for NAIDOC Person of the Year.

She is also proud of the fact that Sunset School was cited the Most Improved School in NAPLAN in 2011.

"Every child is entitled to an education," she repeats.

"All those little things that kept them from coming to school - we've fixed them."