In this edition of ‘Meet the Staff’ we get to know our Beswick Academy Director, Rhonda Curnow.

“Hi, my name is Rhonda Curnow and I’m the WANTA Academy Director for Beswick Community in the Northern Territory.

I moved to the Northern Territory from Ballarat, Victoria in 2021. I lived in Ballarat all my life, growing up with a loving and supportive family especially when it came to my sports. My parents carted me around to training and sports activities every weekend. This later showed as I grew older and participated in softball, badminton, squash, netball, canoeing and competed in five Murray Marathons. My passion then became long distance running and mountain biking.  I love my sports and the outdoors. 

Along with doing mum duties to my two amazing kids, who have grown up worldly and enjoying their own careers, I have also been fortunate to do a lot of travel over many years through most of Asia, Europe and America backpacking and a couple of trips to New Zealand.

I have spent the majority of my career working with challenged youth. My first four years was spent working within a special school environment in Ballarat with challenged youth and families with behavioural issues / drugs and alcohol abuse / trauma. I worked one on one with disabled children with a range of special needs from down syndrome, cerebral palsy to students who faced learning difficulties. I grew into a new role working in the educational support unit where challenged students would spend a whole school term learning basic life skills such as personal hygiene, cooking, using local transport, budgeting, and transitioning into the workforce. I spent 5 years in this role and found it very rewarding watching these amazing students who face many life hurdles learning to overcome and  thrive, building life skills, self-esteem and confidence becoming strong young and independent members of society.

My most fondest memory in that seventeen years was working with a young man with cerebral palsy named Lucas. Lucas was in a wheelchair, peg fed and also non-verbal. I shared three years with Lucas, we were like two peas in a pod. He understood me and I understood him. We would have our own jokes, Lucas flashing his eyes up to tell me something that was happening around him at that moment giggling, and we would laugh as he had a wicked sense of humour. Our greatest team achievement was Lucas and his Art sessions. A remote-controlled toy car was rejigged so that Lucas could move his head to one side hit a button and the remote car could go forward… moving Lucas’s head to the other side the remote car would reverse. Canvases were cut according to what size Lucas decided on, I would hold up different sizes of canvas he would ‘eyes up’ to tell me yes. If it wasn’t what he wanted Lucas would use his eyes and look down.  Same procedure with the colour of paint he chose to use.  I would pour the paint just off the canvas, set Lucas up and using his head on the buttons that controlled the car, the remote car would roll through the paint over the canvas. Back and forward Lucas would send that car through the paint and over the canvas. I would clean the wheels of remote car and pour a different colour of Lucas’ choice and same procedure over and over till the canvas was painted and Lucas was happy with it.   Over the course of the year Lucas was able to paint 20 canvases of different colours and sizes.  Our next step was to hold an exhibition for Lucas showing his artwork. With the support of the local newspaper and Win News TV, Lucas was on front of the local paper and a piece done on his art work achievements and aired on tv. People came to his exhibition and we were able to sell all of his paintings. On every canvas completed I would put some black paint down and Lucas would make the car roll through the paint leaving two-wheel lines marking Lucas’s signature. Lots of hours were put in by us both and I felt so proud of Lucas as he continually challenged himself and pushed through barriers. For a kid with a severe case of cerebral palsy who had a metal rod inserted into his back to keep him upright and couldn’t move his limbs, only his head from side to side- to create such marvellous paintings held at a public gallery to show case his work and sell them for thousands of dollars was such an achievement I struggle to put into words; but a very rewarding journey for Lucas who received the praise and love he deserves – this is just one of my many memories working in special needs that I wont forget anytime soon.

Last year, an opportunity arose that I couldn’t resist. A role with Wanta Aboriginal Corporation working with young indigenous kids in the Northern Territory. I didn’t waste any time packing up my belongings, putting my house on the rental market and before I knew it, my beloved dog Pepper and I had hit the road up to the Territory to begin our next chapter.

I now currently work the dream job running the Wanta program within Wugularr school (Beswick) with amazing young people from all ages but mainly Year 5 up to Year 12. I work with these students to help engage them in school and develop their life skills transitioning into community. I do this through Wanta’s transition education program which helps improve health and wellbeing of young indigenous Australians. Lucky me, Wanta does it by delivering fun and engaging programs through sports, camps and life skills development; everything that I am about when it comes to working with youth, plus I get to live and explore the Northern Territory while doing something I love.

Working with WANTA has given me so many opportunities such as exploring Country with students, learning about cultural practices, and connecting with the youth and families of the Beswick community. I am so grateful for all of these amazing experiences so far and look forward to creating many more memorable ones through my journey in the Northern Territory”.

We thank Rhonda for sharing just some of her life so far with us. Her compassion and commitment to helping and encouraging young people is so inspiring, we are extremely lucky to have her at Wanta!