2008, 26 Minutes
Born into the traditional life of the Wongatha people of Western Australia and educated on the remote Mount Margaret mission, Aboriginal author and educator May O’Brien has profoundly influenced Indigenous education.
May became the first female Aboriginal teacher in Western Australia, fulfilling her dream and returning to the mission to teach. As an educator for over 25 years, she fought for Aboriginal rights and helped create opportunities for her people, bridging the gap between cultures. May helped establish Aboriginal committees on education around Western Australia and worked on the first report into Aboriginal education. Her contribution was acknowledged in 1977 when she received the British Empire Medal for work in Aboriginal education. In 1984 she was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to study programs in the USA, Canada and Great Britain that focused on enabling Indigenous peoples to retain their own cultures, while adjusting to mainstream culture. May O'Brien went on to hold senior positions in the Department of Education.
Since retiring, May has been writing bilingual children’s books that feature her Wongatha language. As an ambassador for numeracy and literacy, she remains involved in a wide range of community activities.
In this interview May discusses growing up in a bush camp; her early years on a remote mission; her lifelong fight to get better education for Aboriginal children and more Aboriginal teachers; working in a male-dominated system and the joy of writing books written in both Wongatha and English.
A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.
NB The Australian Biography series (1-11) are only available for sale within the territories of Australia and New Zealand.
Producer/Director: Rod Freedman
Writer/Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Running Time: 26 Minutes
Classification: Exempt from classification
Curriculum Links: English K-10 - Insights into Aboriginal experiences in Australia; Australian Studies; History; Indigenous Studies - Culture and Identity; Bilingual Education; SOSE/HSIE.