Educator and social entrepreneur
Queensland, 2020 Australian of the Year
Rachel Downie became a teacher to help young people flourish, so when a student died by suicide, she decided to take action. Rachel developed Stymie, an online resource for students to anonymously report instances such as bullying, depression, self-harm or family violence.
Stymie aims to empower students and encourage empathy so they can enhance a culture of care in their communities.
This small ceramic bird is a very personal reminder of Rachel’s student and how his death was the catalyst for the work she does now.
I was working with this student as his art teacher and we had been making animals from clay. He died before his had been fired. A few weeks later, I finished firing that Year 9 class’s animals and when I opened the kiln, all I could see was this boy's little bird. It completely undid me.
I couldn't stop thinking about how he had given this piece of clay life, while experiencing enough trauma in his own to make the decision to suicide. It took me a while but I decided to finish this wee creature. I glazed it colourfully to give it life and, in some ways, this helped me through my grief. I also decided not to fix the little tail feather that had come off during firing. It seemed fitting to just leave it be.
In most cases of harm there are bystanders. While some students feel comfortable talking to teachers and carers, many don’t. The anonymity of Stymie gives them courage to overcome the fears and social pressures that prevent them from saying something. It can also relieve feelings of helplessness for students who want to help themselves but don’t quite know how. If people speak up, it can save lives.
This exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council. Portrait images supplied by the National Australia Day Council.