Ben Schreiber is a Wiradjuri man who fulfilled a life-long dream when he served his country in Afghanistan. He is now sharing his life experiences with teenagers.
Ben, what is your new role at Wagga High School?
I’m the Aboriginal education officer, so pretty much almost like a welfare role, but also providing the link between the indigenous community, the parents and the school.
When did you join the Australian Army?
In 2014. I had wanted to join the army ever since I started school. But I always thought ‘it must be a phase, I’ll grow out of it’, but then when I was 24-25, we just had the arrival of my first son and my wife said ‘now’s the time, it’s now or never and if you want to join up, I’ll support you’, so when my son was eight months old, I enlisted. It was pretty tough on the family.
Did you train initially at Kapooka?
So, when I enlisted I was a corrections officer at Goulburn, and then prior to joining the army, we moved back to live with my mother-in-law, so my wife could have a bit of support while I was away for an extended period of time. She lived there for my initial training, and then after that while I got my initial trade training.
Then we got posted to Brisbane. I was only there for a short time, doing a bunch of different courses, then pretty much deployed overseas.
And you served in Afghanistan?
In 2016, for seven months.
It was an interesting experience. The role over there has changed a lot for the defence force. We've gone from offensive operations to trying to advise and assist.
Our entire role over there was pretty much guardian angels, escorting officers around from different coalition forces to the Afghani officer academy and just ensuring their safety and stuff like that and just convoy around road moves around Kabul.
I was a private in the 8/9th Battalion from Brisbane. I was a crew commander of a PMV – protected mobility vehicle. I was a Bushmaster crew commander, responsible for everyone else who was in the car at the time.
It was a fair bit of responsibility, but it was good.
So now a change of pace, working with teenagers?
It’s nice to be able to help kids who may be struggling, or just provide something that wasn’t around when I was at school.
I think it’s important that something is there now that not only the community, but the kids can also feel a bit more valued at school and that there is someone there to look out for them. If they’ve got any queries, or if the family is uncomfortable talking to the school, or the principal or the executive staff – although they are very approachable – I can be that. I have links to wider community.
So you’re settling in and getting to know the students?
Our catchment here is the area around the school and some of the outlying suburbs.
There are over 90 Koori kids here, so I’m getting around to know them. I’m getting to know them to start building a rapport and then can start addressing any concerns.
For example, I have a meeting with the Red Cross to go see if they have a driver program. If the students don’t have access to a car, or it’s just unfeasible for the parents to take them for driving lessons, hopefully I can partner up with the Red Cross and provide that to the kids.
It’s just another barrier to knock down so they can get work, or further study.
How important is a good education, not just for Koori kids, but for everybody?
It’s very important. Education would solve the world’s problems. If only the whole world could be educated.
I saw that when I was in Afghanistan. A lot of the people over there never had access to education and stuff like that and you could see how the country has unfortunately turned out.
Whereas if those people were given the access to decent education, they could be the future person out there who cures cancer or whatever. But without giving them a good education, we will never know.
Education is changing isn’t it? We’re adapting it to the needs of individual kids.
Yes it is, very much. Ten years ago, or more, it was just this track that you stayed on and that’s how it worked.
But the stuff the kids gets to do now is phenomenal, like the implementation of all the technology, even just the way they go about teaching the kids.
There is just so much more scope for them to put their individual spin on things, and adapt that way. I reckon it’s unreal.
They’re teaching the Wiradjuri language here. It’s a four-week course for Year 8 kids at the moment, but they're looking to expand that.
The Department of Education is bringing more and more indigenous studies into schools, which is awesome.
For a long time, Koori people weren’t seen as first-class citizens, but now there’s a lot of doors opening up and a lot of people willing to give indigenous people a hand up and help them out and guide them.
A lot of the time when it goes wrong, I think it’s because it’s top-down driven, but people won’t accept that. They have no ownership.
But they are starting to change the way a lot of things are delivered – from the ground up – and communities based things and they are having far more success that the previous dictator style.
When they start achieving and getting results from something they have invested in, there is an enormous sense of pride there. They’ve helped recreated something that is bettering more than one person.