In 2000, Mary Dumas, Taree TAFE Aboriginal Teacher Coach, very sadly and unexpectedly became a widow, meaning she had the sole responsibility of raising her four children, whose ages at the time ranged between nine to nineteen.
Instead of completely despairing and giving up on life, Mary made the decision to educate herself to support her children and has since become a role model to not only her own children, but to many children in the local community as well. Mary currently sits on the teaching staff of a new TAFE course, the Diploma of Aboriginal studies, which she helped for formulate.
Twelve years ago you went through an extraordinarily difficult time when your husband suddenly died. You made a choice that you wanted to inspire others to succeed. Apart from the obvious necessity of providing for your children, what prompted your decision to become a role model?
I think that there can never be enough role models for our young people. Today’s young people face so many challenges, and they really need to have people to look up to, to help support, motivate and encourage them.
It’s amazing how far a little bit of encouragement can take you.
You initially studied at TAFE in 1997 and subsequently upgraded your qualifications, enrolling in a Bachelor of Secondary Education, majoring in English and Aboriginal Studies. During this time you were also employed at Taree’s Ghinni Ghinni Youth and Culture Aboriginal Corporation and also at St Joseph’s Primary School. As a single mother, it can’t have been easy for you. How did you and how do you continue to manage a work/life balance?
At times it wasn’t easy, and I even had moments when I doubted myself and wondered if I could keep on going, but with the support of family and friends (and a lot of determination) I was able to succeed. I did find though, that as much as I love my family, occasionally I also needed time for myself. Even if it meant just putting my feet up, enjoying a cuppa and just finding a moment to relax.
What advice would you give to other single mothers currently living the daily juggling act of raising children with work and a career?
I think the best advice I can give is to hang in there. Yes, at times it will all seem too much, but the rewards (both personally and professionally) will be so great.
And don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You are the only one that can hold you back, nobody else. Above all, never lose sight of your goals and never be afraid to ask for help.
Together with Margaret Gardner, you helped formulate The Diploma of Aboriginal Studies, which is based out of Taree and also has relevance on the North Coast, where according to a release issued by NSW TAFE’s North Cost Institute, one in 10 of NSW’s Indigenous people live. Tell us about the course and if you have any plans to expand it in the future?
Heather McGregor (TAFE’s Director of Community Development and Aboriginal Engagement) was instrumental in formulating the course, along with Margaret, as well as negotiating with the Wollotuka Institute at Newcastle University.
Margaret then approached me and asked if I would be interested in helping to deliver the course, which is how my involvement came about.
The Diploma of Aboriginal Studies provides a high-level TAFE qualification and pathway for Aboriginal workers and community members seeking entry into the University of Newcastle’s Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice.
The course also provides a year’s credit towards the degree. This is basically a pilot program for the Taree area, so depending upon the success of the program, it is hoped that we can continue to offer this course to students in the future.
What is involved in your role as Aboriginal Teacher Coach at Taree TAFE?
As Aboriginal Teacher Coach, I provide tutorial support to Indigenous students across all faculties at both Taree and Great Lakes Campus.
This support includes one-on-one, group tutorial and team teaching, as well as supporting students throughout their work placement.
I also liaise closely with Head Teachers to determine the extent of support for the students.
What do you aim to teach your students?
My main aim is to help the students to course complete, but also to help them realise their potential.
I want them to know that they have true value and have so much to offer – not only to themselves and their families, but to their community as well.
After your life experiences, what have you learnt about the value of family?
To me, family is priceless. My outlook on life is that even if you don’t have anything else in life, you will always have family.
I once heard someone say what children mostly need is stability, patience and love … what do you think children are most in need of?
Definitely all of the above, but also to be made to feel important and that they are really, really special.
Thank you Mary.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 63 of Manning Great Lakes Focus