In her own words (adapted from her Living History interview)
The time I spent [at La Trobe University] initially was pretty exciting, because I … came over here and sat in the café and looked around and … felt quite overwhelmed.
My name is Carmel Lawrence. I don’t have a title. I graduated from La Trobe in 1985.
The threat to Indigenous languages is pretty colossal in the 21st Century, so I wanted to teach in a remote community, to be part of their empowerment as well.
Having worked initially in a remote community with kids who spoke English as their second language, and then from there, I moved into an urban Darwin school where we had students, with many, many students from South East Asia. The combination of remote area kids whose first language is an Indigenous language and those kids who I was working with who’d come by boat to Darwin, really just confirmed, you know, what I wanted to do, which was ESL.
The impact of La Trobe was how much I learned about the importance of techniques and strategies, and understanding of teaching English as a second language. Of course to do that there’s got to be a strong acknowledgement of the first language of those students.
Wow. That’s Yalmay and Mandawuy. These people were pioneers. They were bilingual education. They were it. Yalmay – it sort of makes me feel a bit weepy, sorry, because she’s fought so hard for bilingual education, and the erosion of funding and the disintegration of Indigenous education has been colossal. They would have given a very loud and clear message of the fundamental human right for students to be able to learn in their first language.
Here now there would be great cultural and linguistic diversity amongst the lecturers, all of the staff and the students. But what would be lovely is if we had mainstream Australians wanting to study language, wanting to become teachers of language and culture.
The study I did here has been integral to the work that I’ve done and continue to do.