People like Robert Jones are a shining light in our community.
His story of transformation, his authenticity and his genuine passion for spreading cultural awareness and acceptance is what inspiration is made of.
Robert is the first to admit he started adulthood unsure of where he wanted to go.
Robert left high school after having completed only some of his secondary schooling via correspondence.
It was some time after he decided to start studying at TAFE to complete his high school qualifications. While he was still unsure what he wanted to do he knew he needed to at least close out this chapter to find out.
During this time Robert was receiving support from his MAX team in Bunbury and as they provided health supports to help him manage his mental health, they joined his TAFE lecturers in championing Robert towards a career in education.
Cathleen shares from her perspective:
Robert found the course more enjoyable than he was expecting and understood the material more than he thought he would.
“That’s when I found my passion for education,” he says.
During his first prac at a local primary school, Robert was given the opportunity to be in the classroom, help run activities and help the students celebrate NAIDOC Week.
“The school gave me the independence to go through and see what I was good at and what I wasn’t,” he says.
What Robert is good at, and what he’s passionate about is making sure all children feel capable and valuable and that’s what drives him in his new Education Assistant role at the school – a paid role he was offered after completing his Certificate III.
“I firmly believe that without everyone’s help, I wouldn’t have gotten to this point,” he says. “I was given a lot of support and encouragement and I previously couldn’t give that to myself.”
“The kids are the same. They need encouragement and support, they need to feel like they can achieve. I want to give these kids what others have given me,” he says.
“When you’re young you start to think maybe I’m not good enough, I can’t do it, I’m not capable – but kids don’t think that unless an adult makes them think that. I want to be around to make sure they know they are good enough, they can do it and they’re capable so when the naysayers come, they’ve got the strength to shrug it off and carry on,” says Robert.
“I’m so passionate about helping everyone. I understand how difficult it is for some of these kids and I really want to show people that we can do whatever we put our minds to,” says Robert.
Robert is also passionate about making sure children from different cultures and especially Indigenous cultures feel accepted and celebrated.
Robert himself comes from a blend of Koori, Indonesian and Italian heritage but spent much of his childhood immersed in Wardandi and Kaartdijin Noongar cultures.
“I’m deadset on making sure everyone’s culture is accepted,” says Robert.
“I enjoy going in and being really passionate and helping the kids understand that it’s that passion that’s going to drive them forward; that passion and respect for their culture, for themselves and for each other,” he says.
As part of his mission to do just that, Robert is helping to bring Indigenous culture to life at the local primary school, showcasing artwork by local Indigenous artists and dances by local performers and connecting students with Noongar elders and language.
“I personally want non-Indigenous people to understand Noongar language. If it’s just us learning it, it will die out. We need everybody to want to speak it, to want to learn it, to want to be part of it, and to feel likely they’re welcome to do that,” says Robert.
As he reflects on his journey to date, Robert shares: “I’ve come from a place where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, I didn’t have any qualifications – and it’s all turned around very quickly.”
So what does the future look like for Robert? He’s started studying teaching at university while continuing to work in education support, championing the students while he completes his teaching degree.
Acknowledgement: We chatted with Robert in front of a large-scale public artwork by Indigenous artist, Troy Bennell. Troy welcomes visitors to join him for cultural tours of Bunbury. He can be found at Ngalang Wongi Aboriginal Cultural Tours.
These murals are part of a public art trail in Bunbury. Find out more here: Street & Public Art - Visit Bunbury Geographe.