Half a century career exploring cultures

Primary principal Anne Marrins has relished working in cross cultural environments throughout her 47 year career.

Training at Wagga Teachers' College in the 70s, Marrins said her first posting at Homebush West Primary was a culture shock compared to the predominately ‘Anglo Celtic’ exposure she had received.

The school was dealing with an intake of migrants from Turkey and there were no provisions in place for dealing with non-English speaking students.

“The department had nothing, we had to go to a Catholic school in the evenings to get some training on this,” Marrins said.

This early experience was to set the tone for her whole career, as Marrins has sought out schools with multicultural cohorts.

After three years at Homebush she moved to England to teach in Brixton, London, a deprived area dominated by Afro-Caribbeans, with the Brixton riot taking place in 1981. When she returned to Australia Marrins couldn’t get a job in a department school, so she ended up in the Catholic system at Holy Trinity Primary Granville, which had a large Lebanese community.

She met her husband who had emigrated from Scotland to South Africa before arriving in Australia, and the couple moved to South Africa for a year.

Marrins taught in an all white school as apartheid was in full swing at that time. Returning to Australia a year later she worked in a number of western Sydney schools until she was awarded the principalship of St Monica’s North Parramatta in 2000.

Seven years ago she moved to St Patrick’s Blacktown, her current school.

“St Patrick’s has been wonderful. I love this school. Blacktown in the most multi-cultural place in Australia. It is going to be very hard to leave.”

Marrins said during her long carer it’s “always been about the students, and the difference you can make for them, particularly in schools with other cultures.

“Working with students that were a mix of cultures is what Catholic education is all about, helping people who have dug in financially and who have come to make a new life for themselves.”

She has seen the nature of education evolve over the years, from children being passive recipients of learning to being empowered to be active participants in their learning.

The principal’s role has also changed, with an increasing burden of administration placed upon them.

‘We’re supposed to be leaders of learning but increasingly our accountability is about things like work health and safety, legals and other requirements.

“In fact, the only look at the learning is the NAPLAN data.”

Marrins has welcomed a pilot program by the Parramatta Diocese to introduce a business manager to primary schools one day a week and she hopes the program will be expanded.

A 30 year IEU member, Marrins has known IEU Principals Convenor Pam Smith since Smith worked at Parramatta Diocese supporting disadvantaged schools.

Smith has provided her with some support as a principal, and she said her railway worker father installed in her the philosophy that you have to be a union member to make a difference.

“In Australia we have great conditions compared to some overseas countries, thanks to the Union. In the UK they have no idea what leave loading or long service leave are.”

Marrins intends to spend her retirement doing all the things she hasn’t been able to do as a principal: reading, cycling, exercising and travelling.

“They always say you should maintain a good work life balance, but that’s pretty hard to do when you’re a principal.”