From working the land to shaping the next generation
From cattle property manager, to Executive Director of a one-of-a-kind school—at first glance, Ned McCord seems to have made a giant leap since 1995 when he and his ARLP Course 2 cohort experienced their first session in the Kimberley.
Ned was raised on a family property in Queensland’s North Burnett region and after completing school he headed to the Northern Territory and began jackarooing at Bradshaw Station.
He has since worked on stations far and wide, throughout Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
And while Ned has always thought of himself as far more comfortable in the saddle than in the classroom, the trajectory of his very physical, remote work is what ultimately made him the perfect fit for a unique educational vision.
It was around ten years ago, that Ned’s work brought him to the Bunuba Aboriginal community—the traditional owners of Leopold Downs and Fairfield Stations in Western Australia, which run approximately 20,000 head of cattle across 4891 square kilometres of land.
Here, Ned met Joe Ross, a senior Bunuba man and an ARLP Course 5 graduate. As the two Foundation Fellows connected, Joe outlined the Bunuba community’s plans to establish a learning centre for young Indigenous people; the goal being to connect them with their cultural background while gaining formal educational skills through practical application.
And as the stars so often seem to do, they aligned in a unique way.
In an educational institution ensconced in the urban heart of Melbourne, over the other side of the country, Wesley College Principal, Dr Helen Drennen was thinking about alternatives to scholarships, and improving educational outcomes for all students, whatever their backgrounds. She was imagining a classroom without walls, one that moves between big city and outback.
At Fairfield Station one day, Joe and Ned, who was mustering on the property at the time, met with Helen, and the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School was born: a unique collaboration between Wesley College and the Fitzroy Valley community in West Australia.
This unique school sees students in Years 10, 11 and 12 spend two terms at Yiramalay on Leopold Downs Station, and two terms at Wesley College in Melbourne. In both environments, they are fully immersed in the culture.
At Yiramalay, this means getting stuck into the local industry opportunities—pastoralism, agriculture, ecotourism and the arts—not to mention the Aboriginal language and culture. At the same time, the initiative provides a pathway for Aboriginal students to access mainstream education and complete Year 12.
“We all learn differently, and the most powerful learning is through real experience,” says Wesley Principal, Helen.
“By bringing two ‘Australia’s’ together in classrooms that move between the city and country, horizons are extended and cultures meet for the children in both communities,” she says.
The Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School partnership was formally established in 2004, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by both parties, encapsulating their deep commitment to learning together and to expanding horizons and future opportunities for the children and families of both communities.
The school itself began operation on 15 August 2010, with an Induction Program for students in Year 10. It was officially opened on 20 May 2011 with the launch of the new Senior Years Learning Framework. In 2011 the Government of Western Australia registered Yiramalay/ Wesley Studio School as an Independent School in Western Australia to deliver Years, 10, 11 and 12.
“The partnership between Wesley College and the Bunuba people is providing new vision for community across cultures in Australia, and a unique opportunity for all to learn,” Ned says.
“The strength of the school is its ability to engage students and communities across cultures.”
The Studio School provides quality education, employment-focused training, as well as significant cultural learning and understanding to Melbourne staff and students, and families participating in the Induction Programs.
“This is an important, though small step, towards ‘Closing the Gap’ for Aboriginal people,” Ned says.
And for the man now used to herding kids as well as livestock, a major part of his Executive Director’s role is to educate young people through the work that he knows so well.
“Through being involved in mustering and stock handling, the students can learn about and appreciate respect, teamwork and leadership,” he says.
“They can learn skills here that are very practical and might appear at first not to relate to their lives at all, but they come to realise that they are involved in experiences that could change the way they live, respond to and relate to everything around them,” the cattleman says.
According to Jasmine Davies, a student from the Kimberley, the opportunities offered by the school has “given us a chance to chase our dreams”. The experience is equally eye opening for the Melbourne-based Wesley students.
The School receives immense support from Wesley College Melbourne and with the recent establishment of the Yiramalay Foundation Ltd., and Ned and Joe are continually on the road fund-raising for student scholarships.
Through this initiative, two ARLP Fellows have contributed to experiences that are broadening and enriching the lives of a number of Australia’s next generation—supporting our leaders of the future.