Would a woman who’s had a black mamba down her back, used a bat cave as dunny, fought malaria eight times and had an appendix removed with local anaesthetic flinch at fighting the good fight for decent public education? Not Alison Masters, who put her back into the Gonski campaign and is jubilant at what Federation has achieved.
Her efforts mirror those of hundreds of teachers across NSW. Alison compiled Hassall Grove Public School’s submission for the Gonski schools funding review with input from colleagues, encouraged staff to write their own submissions or at the very least sign up to "I give a Gonski" online and continuously compiled, copied and disseminated information as the campaign unfolded.
Although the Abbott Government dishonoured the full six-year Gonski commitment, she says Federation can take pride in the “amazing achievement” the campaign has delivered so far.
“In effect, we took united action and have won four years of additional funding so far — only two years to go! The fight continues.”
Alison always wanted to be a teacher. She had attended six schools on three continents by the time she was enrolled at Springwood High School first form in 1973. “I owe a debt of gratitude to the many school teachers who went out of the way to help me adjust ... and adjust ... and adjust again.”
She gained a teaching scholarship and after graduation was placed on a five-year waiting list for a teaching job. To fill in time she went to teach at a remote girls’ school in Kenya that had no electricity, no running water and where teachers were paid $100 a month.
“I learned first-hand about the lack of human rights, racism, abject poverty, education only for those who can afford it, the lack of freedom of speech and the suffering of those who had no access to medicines or doctors when they fell ill.”
This was when the bat cave and the black mamba put extra steel in her. “Yes, bats lived in the pit toilet by day, flapping all around and creating a gentle breeze just beneath you any time you ventured to go!” she said.
Soon after returning home she accepted a permanent position at Mt Druitt Public School in 1986. The “outrageous” position taken by the Greiner government catapulted her into union activism “and the fight for the right of every child in NSW to a free, quality public education”. She became her school's Fed Rep.
Says Alison: “In a perfect example of the adage, ‘Together we bargain, divided we beg’ the vast majority of public school teachers, united under the umbrella of the Federation, took action and won!
“I believe belonging to the union is essential for every teacher, especially at the present time,” she adds. Alison has served as Women’s Contact and Fed Rep at two schools.
She currently teaches kindergarten. Hassall Grove Public School has 776 students (and once a roll of 900) served by 55 staff. The school lies in western Sydney within the Mt Druitt-St Marys TA and its intake is 49 per cent ESL and 8 per cent Indigenous.
“Teaching is a people business and the stress load can be overwhelming,” said Alison. “Through the role of Fed Rep I’ve been able to share my experience, strength and hope with a view to lightening that load.”
She enjoys the bush and finds it the perfect place to get away from everything and unwind and “adores” spending time with her beloved golden retrievers.