The WA Department of Education has awarded the 2021 Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer of the Year to Noongar Elder from Narrogin Primary School, Basil Kickett.

Mr Kickett, known commonly and affectionately by all in the town as Pop, works with children of all ages up to Year 6 to ensure that the students are helped both “personally and culturally”.

Mr Kickett said it was “fantastic to be recognised”, not for the personal recognition, but because it “helps assist the families who send their kids to school”.

“They see me as a role model,” he said.

Mr Kickett has worked at Narrogin Primary School, where he himself went to school, for 17 years after 23 years working for QANTAS and before that on the railways around Perth.

Assisting with literacy and numeracy, as well as embedding cultural education into the classroom, he wants the children to “see school as a safe and fun place to come”.

Over his time at the school, he’s built an inclusive curriculum across all learning areas, drawing on his background and knowledge of Noongar culture and language, as well as his own family’s history.

In the classroom, he tells stories about his life and the things he’s experienced over his years.

He told the National Indigenous Times that when telling his story to classes, the children, particularly those non-Indigenous, were shocked at the experience and racism.

The success of this storytelling led him to write a release a book of stories of his life for children. Mr Kickett proudly spoke about the book, When Pop was a Boy, which has “sold out statewide”.

“Through the book, I want the kids to remember that I care about them and hope they will always feel that I will be there to help and support them always.”

At Narrogin Primary School, Mr Kickett participates in planning sessions, staff planning workshops and school development days, and has been a key force behind the school improvement by advocating for the implementation of the Aboriginal and Cultural Standards Framework.

Basil Kickett, otherwise known as Pop, with his book ‘When Pop was a Boy’. Photo supplied WA Department of Education.

His role in the school has led to consistent recognition by his local community.

“Everyone calls me Pop. The Noongar kids started calling me Pop, and then the parents took it up, and it snowballed.”

“I come from a lot of racism in my early years. I played a lot of football and was called everything on the oval. But now I’ve turned it around.”

He works in cooperation with teaching staff to identify risk factors for escalation when multi-generational trauma is considered and then works with students one-to-one to ensure de-escalation is possible at challenging points.

In his role, Mr Kickett supports students and families to make sure no Aboriginal student misses out on an opportunity to participate by consistently making home visits to get forms and paperwork signed, as well as arranging transport and lunches for the children. He coordinates health appointments for Aboriginal students to conduct hearing screening as well.

Mr Kickett hopes the “beautiful” Noongar language can become taught commonly.

“Language is just about lost. I’d like the Noongar kids to learn the language,” he said.

“We weren’t allowed to speak the language back in the day, so it’s nearly lost.”

Through everything he does, Mr Kickett wants to pass on his knowledge of culture and Country to the next generation in the same way he credits a lot of his learning to the teachings of his Grandfather.

By Aaron Bloch