Despite the federal Morrison government’s best attempts to dismantle Australia’s public TAFE system, three devotees tell STEPHEN A RUSSELL why TAFE is essential to shaping a strong and healthy Australia.
Samantha ‘Sammy’ Daly imagined her name in lights, with her heart set on becoming an actor and travelling the world. Then something unimaginable happened. She experienced the horror of a spontaneous cerebral haemorrhage, aged only 24, that required two emergency brain surgeries and left her in a coma. When she awoke, paralysed on her left-hand side, she could talk, but could not sit up, walk, or remember how to write her name. She had also lost a lot of treasured memories. “I pretty much spent like the last eight years relearning everything,” Sammy says.
A terrifying experience, she tackled the hurdles that followed with a great deal of humour and a lot of love and support from her friends and family. “It was a pretty big wake-up call,” she says of the enforced reboot. “My second chance at life isn’t lost on me.”
Sammy worked hard on her recovery to the point where she could take up a hospitality job, but when the pandemic hit, the gig disappeared. “I was living back with my parents, trying to recreate a life,” she says. “So I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to think about study’.”
Having struggled with anxiety in her past, Sammy opted to study a dual Cert IV in mental health and mental health peer work at Swinburne TAFE so she could help others, a decision she says has transformed her life. “My tutors made all the difference,” she says. “I lacked confidence and was so afraid, but Swinburne has a student accessibility team and I spoke to them about maybe needing extra time or support. I struggle a lot with fatigue, but they made me feel like I could do this course.”
“TAFE is accessible to everyone. It’s very personal, like grassroots. You’re really on the ground, hands-on learning in a safe and supportive way.”
Clearly she could, because Sammy was named Vocational Student of the Year in the Australian Training Awards. She can’t praise the Swinburne teachers enough for their support of her journey, including course coordinator Nadine Hantke. “She was just incredible. I was so hard on myself, and she’s the one who just kept communicating with me and encouraging me. I had many a private meltdown, but Nadine was always there to talk to.”
Passionate about her chosen field and determined to address the mental health challenges faced by Australians, Sammy cannot recommend the TAFE pathway highly enough. “TAFE is accessible to everyone,” she says. “It’s very personal, like grassroots. You’re really on the ground, hands-on learning in a safe and supportive way. There’s a real sense of community, and my classmates lifted each other up.”
Growing up, proud Gunditjmara man Lucas Price never felt as though he fit in because of his Caucasian appearance.
“I was always stereotyped and told that I was a ‘gubba’, or non-Aboriginal, and viewed differently.” That included local police, who one day pulled him aside from his cousins, who have darker skin. “They said, ‘What are you doing hanging around those black c*nts?’” he recalls, shockingly.
While his parents always supported Lucas to embrace his Culture, he struggled to find a sense of belonging. This played a big part in leading him to his passion: working with and advocating for at-risk kids in custody or struggling in the community, as a team leader of Aboriginal liaison officers at the Department of Justice and Community Safety Victoria.
This journey began at the then Northland Secondary College, where Aboriginal liaison officer Aunty Deidre Baksh supported him in completing a Certificate II in building and construction. “She was strong and staunch,” he says.
He also finished Year 12 there, after becoming a young father at 18 and having to work to support his family.
“That gave me the platform to reflect confidently on my abilities, and how I can actually make a difference for young people from all over Australia.”
A carpentry apprenticeship wasn’t the right fit, but changing lanes led him to the culturally safe and supportive educational environment of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited and a Cert IV in community services. He was named Koorie Student of the Year in the 2021 Victorian Training Awards.
“That gave me the platform to reflect confidently on myself and my abilities, and how I can actually make a difference for young people from all over Australia.”
Lucas says it’s crucial to embed Aboriginal culture in all learning environments, “especially in kindergartens, and that’s something I’m doing now with my children’s childcare centre.”
Julie Kramer, who won Teacher of the Year at the 2021 Victorian Training Awards, shifted out of the aged care sector to train the next generation at Bendigo TAFE. She brought many innovative ideas on how best to improve standards, helping set up a convincing palliative care environment at the TAFE.
“We literally just brought stuff in from home and op-shops,” she recalls. “We set up a booth with a mannequin, lighting, music and incense, just to try and give the students the closest experience we could.”
They now have an impressive lab, with Kramer heavily involved in recommending what they needed to get the set-up right for students. “It’s very confronting, having to care for someone who’s dying if you’ve never been in that situation,” she says of why it’s so important to provide the best training possible. “When our students go out, many people are surprised that they’re on their first placement, because they’ve done so many practicals before they get out there.”
“It’s really important to make sure that we’re sending the best people into the community.”
Julie’s devoted to the cause. “It’s really important, as trainers, to make sure that we’re sending the best people into the community, with the empathy and understanding and that real care factor. We’re on a mission to ensure that there are only decent people in aged care.”
As we approach a federal election under a government that has done nothing but slash funding to TAFE, all three interviewees underline why the sector is vitally important for our future. Julie says the Victorian government’s investment in free TAFE has “made a huge difference”. “We’ve trained up some absolutely awesome people who would probably never have got into the industry otherwise.”