Woman Wright, Edie (Edith)
- Aboriginal Education Manager
Written by Elaine Rabbitt, Independent Scholar
'Aboriginal women leaders need to have a vision, a plan, be informed and be in tune with your own attitude and emotional intelligence. You must have a plan or you live someone else's; whether it be the government's plan, or your family's plan or your husband's', says Aboriginal education manager and author Edie Wright (Interview).
Born in Broome, Edie Wright (nee D 'Antoine) is a Bardi woman who grew up in Derby. She comes from a large family, being sixth of eleven children. Sibling rivalry was rife and learning to display resilience was part of her education from an early age. It is a characteristic that has stayed with Edie throughout her life assisting her to become a highly respected leader in the field of education.
Edie does not believe she was born a leader; she has had to work hard at it. 'I did not grow up in a literate home environment, I rarely saw my Father read and write and my Mother wrote shopping lists. We were very happy, made our own fun, had a huge extended family, with an expectation you would look after younger siblings' (Interview). Her Father, a boat builder and construction worker, was very influential in her life. He was a visionary described as being a true leader who leads through his actions. 'My father led by example and together with my mother, they went about making sure we had the best possible opportunities in education. If you want to walk in the white man's world you have to have a white man's education' (Wright, p. 96).
After marrying at an early age and having two children, Edie embarked upon a career in education. An unplanned career pathway led her from Aboriginal Education Officer, to classroom teacher, Principal and District Manager. The position of Principal at Wankatjunka Community School challenged her to ' sink or swim'. 'It was a place to really develop a vision, to provide quality education to a Community' (Interview). She relied on the support of community member and cultural adviser, Olive Knight. It was Olive who encouraged Edie to think about leadership and Edie's husband was always there to support her.
'I'm a believer that leadership is an activity, it's what you do, not the position that you hold or your qualifications' (Wright, p. 96). When asked how it is different for Aboriginal women leaders in today's climate than for her predecessors, she used the example of her mother to show how the context of leadership has changed. 'When my mother was around in her day, it was keeping family together, so they weren't removed, it was about staying one step ahead of policies at the time, it was about keeping culture strong particularly in the face of assimilation, where you weren't allowed to practise your culture. It was a challenge. What are we going to do to keep culture alive and strong? It was about survival. The skills are still there but the context has changed. The context is probably a bit more challenging now, particularly with the global economy' (Interview).
Edie compares Aboriginal and non Aboriginal leadership for women. 'Non Aboriginal women have many strengths and support that comes with being a part of that main stream society. Whereas Aboriginal women, you have to be twice as resilient. You have to be convinced what you are doing is right. No matter what is thrown at you, you will pick yourself up and keep on going. Perhaps it's a good thing. Generally; we are far more resilient than non Aboriginal women' (Interview).
When it comes to resilience Edie is not shy of a challenge and creating opportunities for others. As Manager of Aboriginal Education in the Kimberley, her role is to support, lead and manage many initiatives in the sector: to improve attendance, retention and engagement for Indigenous children across the Kimberley in government schools. Edie now has a dream for Aboriginal educators to take on leadership roles, question programs and outcomes and for Aboriginal parents to feel safe to be on school councils and boards and have conversations with teachers.
Additional sources: Eddie Wright interviewed by Elaine Rabbitt, in Broome Western Australia on the 13th and 14th of February 2013.
- Wright, Edie, Full Circle: From Mission to Community: A Family Story, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, Western Australia, 2001. Details
- Wright, Edie, 'A Fire in the Belly', in Leading From The Edge: Aborigional Educational Leaders Tell Their Story, 93 - 105 edn, Commonwealth Government of Australia: Department of Education, Science and Training, 2008. Details
- Kullarri Naidoc 2012: Magabala Books 25 Years, http://www.goolarri.com/naidoc/magabala-25.html. Details