Saturday, January 17, 2009

RIP Ramsey

One of the most amazing, determined, special young men I have ever had the privelege to know is gone. I've known for a while, but I'm crying while I write this.

I taught Ramsey for two years while he did Years 11 and 12. He graduated and was accepted to do a TAFE course. The thing that makes him so amazing was that he didn't live in Melbourne, or Sydney, or even a smaller town. He lived in a remote community in the Northern Territory about 5 hours from the nearest town.

He didn't have a nuclear family to look after and support him, in the time I knew him he 'lived' with his grandmother. At least she usually looked after him, and he had a swag that he slept in on the kitchen floor. Most of the time. He also stayed with various other people, so I suppose you could say he had a large family. Occasionally he would go to another town to see his mother so he could get some of his abstudy money, then he would wait a few weeks until he could get a lift back again.

I first saw Ramsey as a grinning face, the sole male with about 11 girls around him. So that was culturally hard for him. It would be hard for most teenagers! Many of the girls fell by the wayside, but he and 3 others kept plugging away, and if he was in the community he was there every day. He wasn't brilliant, but he always handed in drafts before the due date, and would go through them with you then have another go. He took great delight in ticking off every assignment he finished and taking down the record when the unit was finished. He always had a sense of humour and a cheeky grin, and he had so much time for the younger boys.

Remote schools don't have nice classes, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3. They don't have enough students for that, so it's quite common to have 3 or 4 year levels all in together. And kids like Ramsey get put up, because "he can read and he's so far ahead of the others in this class." And usually it doesn't matter because they aren't offered anything else anyway. Up until about 3 years ago remote schools in the NT were not allowed to offer Secondary, they offered English all morning (Goldilocks and blends - sh and ch) and maths until lunch (adding and taking, but only up to 100), then after lunch it might be sport (playing basketball) or station skills (fencing and riding), or art (drawing). That's still true in most places, but Ramsey was part of a great experiment, when a Principal and an amazing teacher decided that wasn't good enough and these kids deserved better. They broke the rules and actually started offering education.

So with that as a background Ramsey completed Senior Secondary and graduated, with moderated work the same as any other student. He had spent much of his primary years being provided the poorest education that would horrify white middle class parents, and he hadn't even got all of it because he was put up. He had four years as part of an educational revolution, and he did it. He wasn't brilliant, he wasn't going to be a doctor or a lawyer or push for Aboriginal rights. But he should have been a shining light to show that they are the same as anyone else. That you don't need a white parent, or a scholarship to a boarding school, or a mission, or to be super intelligent, or to have special units. But when our part of the bargain was fulfilled, when we provided the opportunity, he had the determination, the tenacity, to work hard and climb the mountain. He was the proof that when everyone contributes things can change.

He got into NTU to do a course, but it was hard, hard, hard for him. To move away to the city, where he knew no-one and didn't even know how things worked. He'd never caught a bus, never gone to a cinema, never budgeted money or done all the little things we take for granted that you have to do to live. A small community is a cocoon, where you know everyone and know the rules. And he wasn't really sure what he wanted to do anyway - he was only 17. So he stayed in the community.

I actually toyed with the idea of asking him to come with us to try to get a job in a nearby mine. But we had moved to another community and I had a young baby so in the end I didn't.

He tried for the army. I think he would have done well there. But he wasn't allowed to do the test under English as a Second Language (ESL)conditions. In his community English isn't the native language. The only place they really hear it is at school, and that wasn't particularly effective. He had done well in ESL, but that was with time to work things out and practice. So in an exam he just didn't have time to answer all the questions. Someone who was helping him wrote to the then Federal Minister about the fact that Aboriginal kids were disadvantaged and was invited to contribute to a review. But that didn't do Ramsey any good.

In spite of everything, he succeeded. He did as much as anyone could ask, but he was failed or let down again and again.

So at 19 he was a passenger in a car being driven along dirt roads by an unlicenced, underage, drunk driver. The other 3 survived.


Michelle said...


So so sorry Deb. RIP Ramsey. I knew a girl at school similar to Ramsey in some ways. The education was there for her (we weren't remote by your standards, so we are lucky) and she took it, despite having absolutely no family support right through school. Her parents didn't care if she went to school or not so I'm still so proud of the way she managed to make a go of it against the odds.

Thank you for sharing. I hope Ramsey's short life can at least show the possibilities if things are changed.

Cathy said...

I read this post this morning but couldn’t’ reply, it’s so upsetting to loose someone so young, who has struggled and if not for bureaucrats, would most likely have lived a different path. I hope I have that right.
It never seem fare to me, that one person should die and others live. Of cause I’m glad more of the children didn’t die. It’s just I struggle with that any should die at all. I couldn’t’ post cause I didn’t feel I had anything to offer you, to help life you a bit while you car feeling so devastated. Nothing makes sense what could I say then than “I’m sorry to hear this news” I have one thought I can offer and that’s I hope that the other children in the car or just children that learn of his death school friends.. learn from loosing Ramsey. I hope that they look at what a wonderful boy Ramsey was and what a great loss they, his family, friends and teachers Australia and possibly the world (lets not put limits on) and lets not ever forget what the Army lost. I hope they look at themselves and want to follow his lead………and all that might come of someone learning of his death, lives might be saved.
It’s all you really have in the end that someone somewhere might make a different choice. People that knew Ramsey might fight even harder for change.

It’s wonderful that you and your husband have been a part of his life, I’m sure it was a lovely time in his life.

Love and hugs

Deb said...

Thank you both. I wanted to give him a public tribute, so people could see that sometimes being average can be hard work.

I also taught the driver and am very conflicted about her. It's going to take a lot of working through.