Attending school & completing school

May Helps Out As She Always Has

Story: May O’Brien

The National Aboriginal Literacy and Numeracy Strategy is well under way, with ongoing activities by ambassadors of the strategy throughout schools across Australia.

May O’Brien recently visited Fitzroy Crossing District High School during Book Week to reinforce the importance of literacy and numeracy, as well as the importance of completing a full education.

And what better wisdom could these students have received than from May O’Brien. She is a long-standing statesperson within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and has worked in Aboriginal education and policy for more than four decades.

During her visit May presented books to students from years 2-10 and spent time reading and discussing the books with them.

“When I began school the only English words I could speak were ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” explains May.

“I see a lot of hope and pride in the students. I am amazed at the changes that have occurred throughout the education system over the years. ”

“May related to the students very well,” says Anne Ryan, English Literacy and Numeracy teacher at Fitzroy Crossing District High School. “She was the best visitor we have had to the school and the students are still talking about her visit.”

May spoke to the students in her language, which is Wonbutha from the eastern goldfields. Her achievements were an inspiration for the children who went on to discuss what they wanted to do when they finished school.

“If Fitzroy Crossing District High School is any indication, I know that the future looks good in education, ” says May.


May taught in Western Australian rural and metropolitan primary schools for 25 years. She served in a number of educational positions before being appointed Superintend of Aboriginal Education, a position she held until her early retirement in 1988. Her total service with the Education Department of Western Australian was 34 years.

May was also active in education on a national level, being a member of the Schools Commission’s Aboriginal Consultative Group and a foundation member of the National Aboriginal Education Committee. In the 1977 New Year’s Honours List, May was awarded the British Empire Medal for her service to education generally, and to Aboriginal education in particular.

To make an even better future for children, May believes that we need to assists parents in being responsible for their child’s education.


“I loved to see how happy the children were and the freedom they had in discussions with their teachers”

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