Hon Sue Ellery BA MLC

Hon Sue Ellery BA MLC

Minister for Finance; Commerce; Women's Interests

    Trailblazing Aboriginal educator honoured

    3/05/2022 1:30 AM
    • WA's first qualified female Aboriginal teacher, May O'Brien, recognised at Mount Hawthorn Primary School
    • Junior classroom block renamed the May O'Brien Building
    • Stunning mural unveiled to honour May O'Brien's outstanding achievements

    Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery today renamed a building and unveiled a mural at Mount Hawthorn Primary School to honour May O'Brien (née Miller), the first qualified female Aboriginal teacher in Western Australia.


    The junior block at Mount Hawthorn Primary School has been officially renamed the May O'Brien Building to recognise her profound achievements.


    A stunning mural and portrait showcasing May O'Brien's story and her impact as a trailblazer was also unveiled at the school.


    The mural was designed by J.D. Penangke and Hope Perth. J.D. Penangke is an Aboriginal artist with Whadjuk/Ballardong and Eastern Arrernte heritage, and Hope Perth is a contemporary graffiti artist.


    After overcoming significant barriers to gain her teaching qualification, Mrs O'Brien's first teaching appointment was at Mount Margaret Mission Government School, where she began her education legacy.


    In 1961, Mount Hawthorn Primary School employed Mrs O'Brien to teach all children - no matter their colour, ethnic background or religion - in a significant moment in the history of education in WA.


    Mrs O'Brien taught at the school for 10 years before going on to become Superintendent of Aboriginal Education at the Education Department.


    Throughout her career, Mrs O'Brien provided significant equal educational opportunities for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and inspired many Aboriginal teachers and school leaders to follow in her footsteps.


    She held many other significant government and education positions and won several awards for her contributions, including the British Empire Medal, a Churchill Fellowship and the John Curtin Medal.


    Mrs O'Brien was also well known for her advocacy work in education, justice, child protection and reconciliation, and was the author of children's books that include anecdotes from her childhood and Wongutha culture.


    Comments attributed to Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery:


    "I am so pleased to honour the inspirational May O'Brien, who overcame many hurdles to become the first qualified female Aboriginal teacher in Western Australia.


    "May was a true activist and trailblazer and paved the way for the many Aboriginal educators who came after her.


    "She was passionate about children's education, women's rights and the rights of Aboriginal people, and her legacy continues to have a significant impact on education in WA.


    "It is fantastic to see May's significant achievements recognised at Mount Hawthorn Primary School, where she taught for many years."


    Comments attributed to Perth MLA John Carey:


    "May O'Brien was well respected in education and in the community, and I welcome this incredible public acknowledgement of her legacy at Mount Hawthorn Primary School.


    "She made significant contributions to the Mount Hawthorn community during her decade of teaching at the school, and will continue to do so as this mural and building carrying her name share her inspiring story with new generations.


    "The May O'Brien Building will ensure that May's commitment to the provision of education for all is not forgotten."


    Minister's office - 6552 5045