Harold Cosier was never going to be a primary school teacher, let alone a principal, but it's funny how life gets you to exactly where you need to be.
The Wollongong Primary School principal is instantly likeable, and recognisable, after all how many teachers still have long hair clasped in a ponytail that reaches mid-way down their back?
He welcomes us into his office, it's filled with memories acquired from years of teaching, a large Aboriginal dot painting on the wall, and a traditional hunting spear given to him by a First Nations friend.
During his lifetime, Cosier has taught and mixed with people of all races and nationalities, and to him it's always an opportunity to learn.
He grew up in Western NSW, in the tiny town of Wellington near Dubbo, where there's large populations of Aboriginal people.
As a student he always loved his teachers, and he dreamt of becoming a high school English and maths teacher.
But, midway through his university degree, he realised it wasn't for him. He quit and moved to the Pilliga Forest to become a share farmer.
After a few years of farming sunflowers, sorghum and wheat, he grew tired of the isolation and headed back to uni, but this time to become a primary school teacher.
"It was the best thing I ever did. It made sense to me that if I was going to be a teacher, I wanted to learn about teaching, not about pure maths," he said.
"I'm not a gifted mathematician, I'm a worker. I changed to primary and excelled at it."
His first job as a teacher was at the remote Pilliga Public School, back then it was a "three teacher school".
There wasn't much in Pilliga in those years, but he loved it.
"It had a general store, a little post office, a pub and a bowling club and the school," he said.
"Working in country schools is phenomenal because you're integral to the community, and there's an expectation from a community that you belong and that you're actually going to be doing stuff."
In 1979, after student numbers dropped, he transferred to a school in Mullaley, in the Gunnedah Shire.
A couple of years later, another life change, he and his partner Jenny Dixon moved to Coffs Harbour and set up a vegetarian whole food cafe. It was called the Better Nut Pumpkin, he recalls with a laugh at the play on words.
Working in country schools is phenomenal because you're integral to the community, and there's an expectation from a community that you belong and that you're actually going to be doing stuff.- Harold Cosier
After a stint as a youth worker around Wellington and Dubbo, a job in the Illawarra beckoned and he worked as the "last white fella Aboriginal-led consultant" for the Education Department.
He was then principal at Lake Heights Public School, then, Keiraville Public School, before he got the job at Wollongong Public School in 2008.
Cosier calls the school a village, and he sounds like a proud parent when he talks about how students, teachers and parents all play a vital part in the school's success.
The school's changed a lot since he started - it's grown from around 340 students, to around 550 this year
It's one of the region's most multicultural schools - around 50 per cent of the student population speak a language other than English.
Around 55-60 languages are spoken by students and staff, and the school's bilingual buddies program is vital for new students from non-English speaking backgrounds.
So too, is the school's community hub which runs English language classes for mothers of preschoolers.
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"It's a challenge every time a child comes in with no English, but they're kids and I will never cease to be amazed at the ability of kids to pick up language," he said.
"It's probably eight weeks and they are functional, six months they're reasonably competent.
He's incredibly proud of the school's opportunity classes, which attracts up to 300 applicants each year for just 30 places.
"As an educator, it's an incredible opportunity where you have so many clever kids who can focus on their learning because they are kids who love learning. Their thirst for knowledge and for, for the 'why' is unquenchable, it's beautiful."
For Cosier though, he loves working with the "clever" kids just as much as the "tricky" ones.
"I love the tricky ones, the tricky kids. I love them because they have spark. There's a challenge there for me and I love a challenge," he said.
Every day at school is a good day, he said, but some of the best is "seeing that 'ah-ha' moment" when a student understands a concept.
His mantra as an educator is always "what does this look like for kids?"
"Too often in education, we've been just aiming at the middle and way, way too many kids have been left behind. I've spent 10 years working in Aboriginal communities, I know what that looks like," he said.
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