Children in Nhulunbuy, in north-eastern Arnhem Land, are now wrestling with Shakespeare’s themes thanks to a scholarship program that helps rural teachers incorporate the bard into their classes.

Story Ken Eastwood

The magical setting and themes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are being re-imagined by children at Nhulunbuy High School in Arnhem Land, thanks to an extraordinary Bell Shakespeare Regional Teacher Mentorship program for rural teachers. 

“Instead of the young lovers escaping to the forest, they’re getting into utes and going into the bush where buffalos roam,” says English and drama teacher Jessie Hobeck. “They’ve got two siblings who are called by a mouse into the bush, where a dove tells them to go to a tree to receive some wisdom.”

Jessie has worked at the remote school for two years and is delighted to be helping children interpret Shakespeare’s ideas in an Arnhem Land setting. Rather than just reading and following the text, she says the scholarship program helped her understand how to take Shakespeare’s characters, themes and stories and make them relevant to children in the bush.

In March, Jessie was one of 30 rural teachers who were flown to Sydney from all around Australia for a four-day workshop that was the first part of Bell Shakespeare’s Regional Teacher Mentorship program. Part of that included seeing a performance at the Sydney Opera House. 

“It was incredible. It was phenomenal,” Jessie says, noting the energy and passion of the course facilitators. “It was an incredibly inspiring, empowering and motivating course that was not only theory, but really practical. We had to either plan a unit of work around a Shakespeare text, or in my case I wanted to explore how I could create a performance here that was relevant to our community.” Facilitators on the course check in with each of the participants once a term throughout the year, and remain on call to help with any issues they may be having, particularly helping those who feel quite isolated. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #125

Outback Magazine: June/July 2019