Advance Australia Fair

Written by Nathan Williams

In 2011, I was offered a sponsored place to the Annual SPERA Conference in Adelaide. Now I’m back! I’d like to open the doors of my home to you and why the conference is so important to me.

At the time, I was the first person in our family to attend university. As a young undergraduate, I commuted 600km return each week for two days of on-campus study, because the major I wanted to select was not available in my town. This was in addition to working for the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR), and enjoying spending Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights working at a Sizzler restaurant. In-between shifts and late nights waiting for friends to finish often consisted of a university reading or also adding a Certificate IV course into the mix – as you do.

The SPERA Annual Conference challenged my perceptions of ‘bush communities.’ I was astonished and impressed with the impeccable manners, high intellect and beautiful nature of a visiting delegation of students from a remote South Australian community. Teachers who presented were highly innovative, very creative under difficult circumstances, and offered authentic real-world learning for their students – in one case, turning a bankrupt school (and surrounding community) around to profitability in less than a year. The Government and researchers provided long-term statistics and data about why particular Australian-level decisions needed to be made soon to address crisis. A sponsorship reshaped my entire approach to valuing rural and remote Australia, new ways of teaching, and to demand political will for much needed change. The ability to learn, understand structural issues, develop professional networks, and undertake academic growth was priceless.

  • 60% of Australia’s working population are baby-boomers who will retire by 2020. Middle management positions will be in high demand.
  • CSIRO predicts a 70% reduction in annual rainfall across Eastern Australia. This will significantly affect small communities.
  • The New World Order is being challenged and our next generation must have teachers capable of nurturing strong critical analysis skills.
  • Irrelevant of geographic location, parents pay the same amount for their child’s education.

Where am I now? In only four years, I’ve enjoyed a time as the Queensland Young Volunteer of the Year, Advisor to the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, attended G20, and have completed my Master’s Degree.

Has the SPERA Annual Conference made a practical difference? Yes. I had the opportunity to petition then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and the tertiary sector to consider growing the number of satellite hubs for rural communities and to consider the whole-of-life. We now see satellite university hubs in many parts of Australia, access to the NBN, and universities allowing coursework to begin while students are still in the middle of high school. Imagine a remote community where young people kick off the red dust from their boots and enjoy the same social subculture that students in the city do, by attending a satellite campus near their town, whacking out that law or medicine textbook, eventually setting up businesses in that remote community offering services via video-link to the rest of Australia, and still being able to wake up at 5am to sheer the sheep!

In 2016, only five years later, I will embark on a PhD to design Australia’s first school-based de-radicalisation program. I want my legacy to be that I countered the controversial issue of violent ideology at the school-level.

The Walt Disney of Outback Australia is out there somewhere. They are a student – like me – who needs sponsorship to have their eyes opened to network, to learn, to grow and to return to make a difference in children’s lives.

“With courage let us all combine, to Advance Australia Fair.”