Member Focus: Meet Maxine Brahim

Maxine Brahim outside her office at Aranmore Catholic College

2019 Member Focus Series

We’re kicking off our 2019 series with Maxine Brahim, recognising 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages and the wonderful work she does in her role as Coordinator of the Aboriginal Student Support Unit at Aranmore Catholic College.

Born in Port Hedland as one of 11 children and now working at Aranmore, Maxine has a special insight into indigenous kids and their needs in school, and beyond.

Maxine Brahim is not only an advocate for her students, but also an active member and delegate in the IEU.

Recently, Maxine, as one of ten participants in the IEUA National Women in Leadership program was selected to represent the IEUA on the ACTU Indigenous Committee. With this appointment, Maxine will be able to progress the IEUA’s agenda to improve the opportunities, salaries and working conditions of Aboriginal teachers and Education Assistants.

The Committee was formed as a resolution of the 2001 Indigenous Unionists’ Conference with the following aim:

To provide culturally appropriate and accountable leadership, support and advice to the ACTU executive and affiliates in relation to Indigenous employment and Social Justice issues and strategies affecting the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Through her work with the Committee, Maxine hopes to bring Aboriginal issues to the national industrial stage through the education lens.

She wants to talk about the undervaluing of unique skills that indigenous educators bring in dealing with children, families and communities – having often first-hand knowledge and understanding of history and culture in tackling many of the serious problems facing our First Peoples, such as substance and sexual abuse.

Coming from a strong union background – her father was a Labor unionist as a member of the Waterside Workers’ Union – Maxine had been a union member on-and-off throughout her life. Meeting IEU Organiser Kathy Rogerson when she started at Aranmore got her back into the union fold.

She found herself on the Women in Leadership program and was then approached by IEUA WA Branch General Secretary Angela Briant to be a representative on the UnionsWA Indigenous Committee. Both Angela and UnionsWA Secretary Meredith Hammat recommended Maxine for a position at the national level.

“My hope is to get aspects of Aboriginality recognised in agreements. We have so many skills as indigenous people ourselves. They aren’t currently being rewarded or recognised.

“You cannot buy Aboriginality,” asserts Maxine.

When it comes to the issues of young Aboriginal kids in remote communities, Maxine has similarly strong opinions.

“Make them stronger – resilient enough to say ‘no’,” she says.

Aranmore covers the cost of educating up to eighty Aboriginal students through a sponsorship program – about 10% of the total school population. The aim is to encourage students to work to a high academic stand and to stay in school, maintaining a high attendance record.

“About 25% of the kids in the program are from rural areas. Some have English as a second language which the school recognises adn works with,” explains Maxine. Through an holistic approach where each child is assessed and counselled, gaps in learning are found and addressed. Maxine says, with pride, “Some of these kids are brilliant. They are gonna smash it!”

The school encourages good nutrition and healthy living. “We get back to the basics,” says Maxine.

So how can the union movement help with these issues?

Maxine encourages Education Assistants to sign up as union members. She believes indigenous educators need to become union members and to unite as one.

“The more people in our union, the stronger our voices. Unions make a difference – look at the Pilbara Strike,” Maxine states, referencing the longest strike in Australian history.

“Try to break a bunch of sticks – you can’t”.

If you know someone who should be the subject of our 2019 Member Focus Series, please nominate them here.