As a teacher and mentor, James Castles is always encouraging people to make the most of opportunities. Now he’s taking some of his own advice.
The Mercy Regional College teacher and head of the school’s O’Keeffe campus in Noorat is bound for Western Australia to become director of the East Kimberley Clontarf Academy.
Mr Castles’ connection to the Kimberley began when he and his young family headed to Halls Creek for a year on “a bit of an adventure” in 2014.
On returning to the south-west the relationship grew. An immersion program began at Mercy, giving students a taste of life in the Kimberley. Mr Castles’ involvement in Camperdown Football Netball Club also helped Halls Creek local Cedric Cox blaze his trail into professional football.
“We went up there and just fell in love with the Kimberley,” Mr Castles said of that first trip north. “Even though it seems so far away on a map, it would be close to 4000 kilometres away from home, you don’t feel it. It’s got a really tight sense of community.”
Through the school immersion program, Mr Castles got an up-close look at the Clontarf Foundation and liked what he saw.
“I always thought that it was something that I should think about doing for a lot of reasons. It provides support and opportunity for indigenous boys to be leaders within their communities and role models,” he said.
Clontarf uses sport, particularly AFL, as a vehicle to drive education and career opportunities and improve employment and well-being outcomes among indigenous boys.
“At the moment there are some really good people in the academy up there. There’s four people that I’ll be working with that are really passionate and getting some really good results,” Mr Castles said.
After being at Mercy for about 12 years, Mr Castles sets off in early October. He credits the school with broadening his own horizons.
“If it wasn’t for Mercy I probably wouldn’t be thinking about doing things like this, it’s through the opportunities and social justice and different activities that this school provides,” he said.
“I came here as a uni student, full of confidence… and this place has helped mature me and helped create values. This place certainly has helped shape me as a father, as a teacher and a person. I’m really grateful for that.”
Originally from Maffra in Gippsland, Mr Castles said he never imagined he would land in the Western District.
“I’ve absolutely loved my time here, my family and I,” he said.
“To say goodbye to this job and this school is a big decision, but I guess I’ve just got to follow my instinct.
“You’ve got to make the most of your opportunities and follow your passion.”