Something about Kate Leo
By Domonique Young
Not even the fury of the Queensland floods could keep this teacher from missing a remote teaching post in the Northern Territory.
Kathryn Leo, 30, and her partner Andrew made a 900km diversion through South Australia to miss the wall of water that swallowed much of the sunshine state in January and reach Alekarenge (Ali Curung) in heart of the outback.
“The floods chased us down the whole east coast of Australia.
“Every night we’d arrive in a new town, only to see on the news that the place we’d just come from was underwater. It was very eventful getting here.”
Kate’s adventure hasn’t stopped since settling in as Alekarenge School’s Visual Arts and Preschool Teacher.
As we talk 20 boisterous preschoolers are climbing obstacles, riding tricycles - which Kate informs me is their favourite activity - and playing with blue play dough.
At 10:30am she calls them in for fruit, which they name correctly ‘oranges, apples’ before reverting to talk in Warlpirri. For many of the three and four year olds this is their first introduction to English.
“They speak broken English with a lot of Walpirri words. Sometimes they’ll be having a conversation or cracking up laughing and I won’t know what it’s about.
“I’ll ask, ‘what’s the jukka, what’s that about?’ and they’ll think about it until they have the right English. Then I learn a new Warlpirri word as well.”
At the Alekarenge School culture is integrated into the school program. Every Friday the assistant teachers, almost always local Aboriginal women, take the school teachers and students out bush.
“We’ve cooked kangaroo tail in the coals and taken the preschoolers out to find witchetty grubs. They had to look for a particular tree and certain droppings.
“It not only strengthens our relationship with community, but also grows the preschoolers’ interests and core strengths. My goal is to provide them with as many opportunities to explore a whole range of sensory experiences.”
Despite identifying as Aboriginal, it’s the first time that Kate, whose father is a Budjari man from Cunnamulla, has interacted with culture in a practical sense.
“There’s a strong Murri culture in Brisbane, but I know more of the protocols and philosophy. Here, even if you’re not directly having a cultural experience, everything around you is in the broader context. At the moment there’s a lot of bushfires, which signals the start of the goanna hunting season.”
Alekarenge is home to four clans groups; Warlpirri, Warumungu, Alyawarra and Kaiditch, who are the traditional land owners.
It’s located 380km north of Alice Springs, in dog dreaming country, with approximately 500 residents. Outside the school, there’s a local health centre, bakery, general store and thriving art gallery.
To Kate, Alekarenge is home.
“Everyone here knows who you are and what you do. When I collect the preschoolers in the morning I always get, ‘Hey Kate’. It’s magic.
“On the first day we were shown our house and went for a walk around the community. We were welcomed by everyone and just felt happy. It’s strange, but it felt like home.”
Kate is six months into a three year contract. Even in this short time the Brisbane girl has seen her students grow and evolve. Her cheeks flush as she talks of their achievements and looks to the future.
“You have to challenge yourself and the kids. If you baby them or give them something easy, they’re not going to be interested. They’re smart kids and they want to learn. The more opportunity they’re given, the more they thrive.
“Everyday I’m learning something new about the people here, my students and myself. It’s a relationship that evolves over time. It’s a big journey.”