Katie Jayne O’Brien has to pinch herself to comprehend the incredible teaching and learning opportunities she has experienced – thanks, in part, to financial assistance provided by the Country Education Foundation (CEF).
The Braidwood resident and Australian Catholic University graduate completed a Bachelor of Education (Primary) in 2012 before her passion for the outback led her to a remote Indigenous school at Ltyentye Apurte in the Northern Territory.
Katie Jayne’s intense passion for her job and students, together with her ability to integrate into the local Indigenous community, earned her the prestigious Community Alumni Champion title at the CEF awards at Canberra’s Vibe Hotel on 22 October.
Now teaching at a primary school in Jerilderie, Katie Jayne says she is “truly humbled just to be nominated by the Braidwood Education Foundation for the CEF Alumni community championship”.
“After chatting to many of the nominees Saturday evening, every single person has achieved incredible things in such a short time period.”
Katie Jayne grew up on a beef cattle farm near Braidwood and attended St Bede’s Primary school, then boarding school at Trinity Catholic College in Goulburn.
The financial “leg-up” from CEF allowed her to complete her university degree before accepting the “life-changing” teaching position in the outback.
“It was very important for my family for me to be independent while I was at uni, so I got jobs as a swim teacher and at the Moana Function Centre in Braidwood to help get me through,” she says.
“I jumped at the opportunity to apply for extra funds through CEF and it was a Godsend. Their support helped with rent and text books. It was really, really beneficial.”
With a rural upbringing and a love of horses, Katie Jayne settled right into her new role in the NT and was welcomed with open arms by the Indigenous community.
“I was fortunate enough to be taken in by the community and they took me out to learn about bush medicine, the different ways of cooking and to see the sacred sites,” she says.
“Going out on a Sunday and going out bush and cooking some Johnny cakes and having roast potatoes with the families – I was so fortunate.
“The things I’ve seen and experienced are incredible.”
During her eight-year stint at the school, Katie Jayne took the opportunity to give something back to her students and community by re-introducing a horsemanship program.
She taught them to ride, break-in horses, muster and care for the animals. The program has since been taken over by a group of local men, and youngsters are gaining skills to help them gain employment on the large outback stations.
“I took a year off teaching to work as a jillaroo,” Katie Jayne says. “So it just made sense to teach these kids the skills to make them employable and increase their love for horses.”
The school’s wellbeing co-ordinator for a few years, Katie Jayne helped children and their families deal with social issues, language barriers and cultural issues.
When she returned home during COVID lockdowns, she also set about looking after older community members in and around Braidwood by dropping letters, cakes and biscuits to those isolated on farms or living alone.
As for her passion for teaching, there are two things she loves most.
“Those light bulb moments when… they just get it… It just clicks.
“And I love building that positive relationship with kids and teaching them that school’s a safe place where they can be themselves, learn and be immersed in all different experiences, and exposed to so many different elements.”
Katie Jayne says there are many teacher benefits in working at remote schools.
“There is a real sense of community and respect when you come to teach in their small town to help these little minds. It’s a very humbling and rewarding experience.”
Journalist Inga Nielsen, also from Braidwood, was a finalist in the CEF Young Achiever award.
Inga overcame adversity, including the death of her mother in her second year of university, to complete a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Communications degree at the University of Technology Sydney in 2019.
Inga’s impressive list of achievements includes being elected as first year representative and vice president social justice on the Law Students Society. She was awarded the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia Ossie Award for her documentary package highlighting the lack of adequate care facilities for young people with a disability, including her mum.
Inga has worked as a media adviser for the former regional roads minister and the NSW Deputy Premier. She has worked as a digital journalist for Nine News covering the Black Summer Bushfires, and foreign correspondent during Biden’s Inauguration and the storming of the Capitol Building.
A former Today Show producer and WIN News Victoria reporter, Inga recently accepted a role as a news reporter for Nine News Adelaide.
Inga is passionate about covering rural and regional affairs and hopes her career will allow her to voice these issues to a national audience.
Braidwood and District CEF chair Andrew Callaghan says both young ladies have been outstanding in their chosen fields since leaving university.
“Katie-Jane and Inga are perfect examples of students who come from a regional background, and with the help and financial support from their local Country Education Foundation, have managed to complete their tertiary education and excel in their careers,” he says.
“These ladies are perfect examples that growing up in a regional area, with the help of their communities, is not a disadvantage, and does not limit them reaching for the stars.”
This year’s award recipients have been supported by Country Education Foundation Australia branches from across the country, and represent the best of our regional youth pursuing education and careers across a range of industries.