The 2020 ARIA Music Teacher of the Year has written a book about her time in Wilcannia, western NSW. 

Story Ken Eastwood

When Sarah Donnelley moved to Wilcannia, far western NSW, four years ago as a music teacher, she quickly decided she needed to involve the whole community in her teaching – parents, Indigenous Elders and others. “I think that for me teaching is about relationships – not just with students and colleagues, but their families and the broader community as well,” she says. 

“As a teacher, we’re entrusted with the most important people in someone’s life … so as a teacher I need to work to earn the trust, not just of the student, but of the families.”

In her daily life, this would mean blurring the line between her private and professional life, knocking on a door in the afternoon and sharing a positive learning story with a family about their child, or running a social basketball competition. And at school it meant taking the kids out of the classroom on to country, where Traditional Owners would share their wisdom on everything from gathering emu eggs to the history of the region and caring for the environment. “I’ve discovered this incredible relationship you can have with the environment and country,” Sarah says. 

But it was the way in which she used music across the curriculum and to help students that saw her win the 2020 Aria Award for Music Teacher of the Year, a journey that has now been recorded in her newly released book, Big Things Grow. “Professionally, teaching here has given me the opportunity to be the best teacher I can be wherever I go,” Sarah says. “It’s taught me so much about myself and my teaching practice, and given me so much scope to try things.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #146

Outback Magazine: December/January 2023