Education Ambassadors

Biographies and videos on the 150 years of public education celebrations.

Throughout 2019, our Education Ambassadors promoted the value of public education in Tasmania through their diverse and personal stories across the theme Then, Now and Beyond.

150 Years of Public Education

Their role over the 12 month period was to share their stories through attending local events in communities. They shared their positive stories with the media to highlight the important role that public education plays in individual’s lives but also the community at large. All of our Ambassadors completed their education through the Tasmanian public system or are currently undertaking their studies in public schools.

Latest Video Profile

James Riggall, Company Director

  • Bracknell Primary School
  • Hagley Primary School
  • Riverside Primary School
  • Riverside High School
  • Launceston College

James grew up in a small rural town in northern Tasmania and admits he was a “bookish” kid. After a respected College teacher pointed out James’ aptitude for storytelling, he discovered the many ways he could embrace this passion.

James Riggall

Now a global specialist in virtual and augmented reality, James founded technology business, Bitlink at the age of 21, which among other things, now supports schools to run STEM/STEAM focused programs with students both locally and internationally.

A recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship, James splits his time between Tasmania and the US, where he is working to establish a virtual reality lab. James is also the founder of the Battery Shed Hackerspace, Macquarie House Innovation Hub, and Enterprize— a statewide incubator network in Tasmania. James feels the diversity in public schools is one of its strongest characteristics and that his experience of public education has been integral to building character, resilience and compassion.

“I think Tasmania has the potential to have the best education system in the world, and I think we’re already a long way along that path… We really can change the world from Tasmania and I’ve organised my professional life to do what I can to help realise that vision.”

To find out more about each of our Ambassadors, open the sections below.

Elizabeth Crane – State Executive Officer, CHAT

  • Bicheno Primary School
  • Lindisfarne North Primary School
  • Geilston Bay High School
  • Rosny College

Elizabeth spent her early years on the east coast of Tasmania, before moving to Hobart, aged 11. She reflects on growing up with the ‘bare essentials’ and, as a teenager, juggling both school and casual work to help her family financially.

Elizabeth Crane

Elizabeth was a keen student and dedicated athlete, holding two Australian records in fin swimming and training at the Australian Institute of Sport at the age of 15.

She attributes the support, opportunities and sense of community fostered through her public education, to shaping her life values and helping to guide her in her current role as the State Executive Officer of the Child Health Association of Tasmania, a statewide organisation supporting Tasmanian families. Through her work, Elizabeth advocates for the education of young people and is a firm believer that, ‘to educate is to empower’.

“My own educational experiences, I believe, have shaped the positive attitude to school my children now exhibit. Simply put, without my education I would not be where I am today.”

Simon French – Entrepreneur and Company Director

  • Howrah Primary School
  • Clarence High School
  • Rosny College

Simon is the founder and owner of Maydena Adventure Company. After training and working as a clinical oncology nurse, Simon decided to follow his passion for mountain-biking, founding his first company Dirt Art in 2008, which now designs, constructs and delivers mountain bike trails all over the world.

Simon also owns Dirt Art Walks, a walking trail development company delivering a number of large-scale destination walking trail projects, such as the $30m Grampians Peaks Trail in Victoria.

Once a semi-professional mountain bike racer, Simon always aspired to grow mountain bike and adventure tourism back in his home state of Tasmania. His dream was realised in January 2018, when he opened Maydena Bike Park— the largest bike park in the southern hemisphere. He will soon launch two new adventure tourism attractions in Tasmania. Simon credits his public school education with instilling the core values of respect, dedication, growth and aspiration, much of which he says has led to his success.

“My public education taught me that growth is not a goal to reach any one thing, but rather a life-long commitment to be better at everything I do, while at the same time trying to make the world a better place.”

Jenny Gale – Secretary, Department of Premier and Cabinet; Head of the State Service

  • Smithton Primary School
  • Smithton High School
  • Burnie High School

Jenny believes education to be a great equaliser and says her own public education opened her eyes, enabling her to experience and learn about the world outside the small Circular Head dairy farm on which her father worked.

Jenny Gale

It was these opportunities which allowed her to discover how other students and communities lived and dreamed, irrespective of their circumstances. Jenny cites teachers as instrumental in helping her understand her strengths, motivating her to achieve, and shaping her personal and professional characteristics.

Jenny has had a long career in and out of public schools since 1978 including teaching and leadership roles across the state. This culminated in 2016 when she was appointed Secretary of the Department for Education, Children and Young People. A keen netballer, Jenny has been involved in the sport for 40 years as a player, coach, umpire and administrator. Jenny says her goal as Head of the State Service is to ensure Tasmanian children are happy, thriving, safe, capable and competent, and have a sense of self-worth, a value she believes her public education gave her.

“I had many wonderful teachers who recognised my strengths and always encouraged me to do better, who helped me to understand that every person is important and should be valued for what they bring, who supported me when I felt challenged and taught me the value of perseverance, and who helped me to understand that there is more than one right way to do things and that you have to find your own way.”

Carla Johnson – Practice Consultant

  • Latrobe Primary
  • Latrobe High School
  • Don College

Carla works closely with some of Tasmania’s most high risk and vulnerable people, focusing on Trauma Informed Practice and Positive Behaviour Support. The work Carla does now is a literal world apart from the years she spent living, working and volunteering in Japan, Thailand, Denmark, Ghana and Belgium.

Carla Johnson

The first in her family to attend university, Carla attributes the opportunities provided to her by the public schools she attended, with allowing her to follow her passions for media, social justice and humanitarianism.

She has found balance with work, as a Judo and Brazilian Jujitsu competitor at state, national and international levels. Carla was a semi-finalist for the Tasmanian Young Achiever Award in 2015 for her work with women living in Ghana with obstetric fistula, and again in 2017 for her work with Tasmanians living with a disability. Carla’s current work with high-risk and vulnerable people demonstrates her genuine desire to help others locally, as well as her humanitarian work globally.

“Learning takes courage. My public schools encouraged me to be the best version of myself, recognising leadership qualities and skills in me and opening up platforms for me to be able to experience and explore that side of myself. By investing in education and respecting learning, we give people the courage to grow – only then will we aspire to greatness.”

Dr Lila Landowski – Neuroscientist

  • St Thereses Primary
  • New Town Primary School
  • Ogilvie High School
  • Elizabeth College

Dr Lila Landowski is a neuroscientist with the UTAS School of Medicine, as well as a science communicator and advocate. Lila grew up in a housing department area in suburban Hobart, adopting a role as primary carer for both parents in her early teens. For Lila, school was always a source of positivity and growth and it was there her love of science developed. She admits her goal from a young age was always ‘to make cures for diseases’.

Dr Lila Landowski

Lila completed a Bachelor of Medical Research and a PhD in Neuroscience, with a focus on stroke, fatigue and therapeutic development for nerve injury. Awarded the 2015 Premier’s Young Achiever of the Year and finalist for Young Australian of the Year 2016, Lila has recently been hailed Australia’s 16th ‘Science Superhero’ by the Chief Scientist of Australia. Lila believes public education gives students the ingredients for a rich and rewarding life.

“A public school education sets you free through the opportunities it allows you to create for yourself. With the support I received through my public school education I was able to thrive. It is time to give back to that community.”

Clare Latham – Teacher

  • Campbell Street Primary
  • Cosgrove High School
  • Lycee Marlioz –France (exchange)
  • Rosny College

Clare is a passionate advocate of public education, as a former student, teacher and parent of a public school student. Clare jokes that despite initially training and working in media, as the daughter of teachers, it was inevitable she would end up in education.

Clare Latham

Clare speaks candidly about the bullying she experienced during high school, but says she was well-supported by teachers at school who ensured she felt safe and valued and who encouraged her to achieve, allowing the experience to positively shape her.

In her final year of high school, Clare was offered an opportunity to study abroad in France, fostering her with independence and direction. Clare now finds herself teaching Drama and Media Production at the college she once attended. She believes each child deserves an exceptional education and that they have access to this at their local public school.

“The public system provides both breadth and depth of opportunity for students and is an open door for everyone. Public education can take you anywhere.”

Tasha Matthews – Aboriginal Education Worker

  • Lindisfarne North Primary School
  • Geilston Bay High School
  • Elizabeth College

Tasha works as an Aboriginal Education Worker in schools, providing support for young indigenous students in the public education system. She is passionate about improving cultural pride and celebrating diversity. Tasha describes her childhood as one riddled with domestic violence and insecurity and says, ‘muddy footprints of damage, loss and pain still remain in our family to this day’.

Tasha Matthews

It was the public schools she attended and the caring, attentive teachers she turned to, which became her ‘safe haven’, providing Tasha with stability, consistency and a sense of worth— which she admits she lacked at the time.

Tasha attributes the support her education gave to overcome these adversities to helping her become a resilient and compassionate adult, who is now able to help others. Tasha says she is witnessing a welcome shift in awareness and courage to share and teach the important history of the land and First Nations peoples.

“I am pleased to know the current generations are given the opportunity to understand vital information that will allow us to live in a just and sustainable world. As current role models, through our own aspirations, respectful and courageous actions and thoughts, we will lead by example, inspire growth and provide the platforms for younger generations to thrive.”

Tim McCormack – Dean of the Faculty of Law at UTAS

  • Burnie State School
  • Parklands High School
  • Hellyer Regional College

In addition to being Professor of Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Tasmania, Tim is also Special Adviser on International Humanitarian Law to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, honorary Professorial Fellow at Melbourne Law School, inaugural DFAT Visiting Legal Fellow, New Zealand Law Foundation Distinguished Visiting Fellow, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and a Director of World Vision Australia. He is, too, a fiercely proud former Tasmanian public school student.

Tim McCormack

Hailing from the north-west coast, Tim grew up in Burnie and cites dedicated teachers among those who influenced him most during this impressionable time. Tim is now the world’s leading expert on the Law of Armed Conflict and on the prosecution of war crimes. He believes public education sets Tasmanians up to achieve great things on a global stage and is excited to be back in his home state where he hopes to inspire others to pursue greatness.

“I firmly believe that there is no reason why Tasmanians cannot achieve great things on a global stage and I consider myself a living demonstration of what’s possible. It is important that young Tasmanians have role models that cause them to lift their aspiration, to act courageously and to commit to growth and development to be the best they can be, and to do so out of a sense of humility and respect for others.”

Ayame Ochi – Medical Student

  • Kingston Primary School
  • Kingston High School
  • Hobart College

Ayame has held aspirations of becoming a leading heart surgeon since attendinga school excursion to a hospital in Year 5. She is now completing a Bachelor of Medicine – Bachelor of Surgery and recently presented her research on heart valves at an international cardiology conference in Orlando, Florida.

Ayame Ochi

Her research into heart failure and abnormal rhythms has been featured in international conferences and journals. Last year, Ayame started a registry of heart valves at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Ayame was also involved with an international organisation distributing mosquito nets and HIV testing in rural Uganda.

Ayame is as creative as she is academic and is a dedicated member of Hobart’s youth contemporary dance company, DRILL. She says school was where she felt valued, supported and nurtured, and believes it was the many opportunities given to her by public education that fostered self-belief, drive and an appreciation of the arts.

“The diverse community in public schools provides an added element of richness to the learning environment. The range of people ethnically, socio-economically, and in ability provides a platform for education around acceptance of diversity in the greater community. The integration I had with a wide variety of people has made me a more empathetic and socially aware soon-to-be doctor and person.”

Susan Wigg – Retired Teacher

  • Flinders Island Area School
  • Burnie High School

Susan’s journey with public education spans 65 years, as a student, teacher, parent and volunteer. She remembers her primary school ‘Learn to Swim’ lessons on Flinders Island taking place in the ocean and being allowed to use a ballpoint pen for the first time after years of writing with a nibbed pen and ink. Susan trained as a physical education teacher in the early 1960s before taking up her first teaching position at Wynyard High School.

Susan Wigg

Susan, as a young teacher, recalls vividly the pink slip on which she was required to tick a box citing ‘Pregnancy’ as the reason for her resignation from the Department. She also remembers the disappointment she felt when discovering her male colleagues were receiving more pay than her for the same work. Susan marvels now at how remarkably things have changed. She continues to be a lifelong learner and is an advocate for adult literacy through her volunteer work tutoring at Burnie Library and through her active role in the Circular Head community.

“From 1953 to present day I have been proud to witness immense change and growth in public education. I am amazed at how learning styles and resources have changed. From my early days with pen and ink to a future where education is something I cannot imagine. However, one constant is that public school education supports and provides the aspirations, respect, courage and growth to all learners on their pathway to become proud Tasmanians.”

John Xintavelonis – Actor

  • Lindisfarne North Primary School
  • Geilston Bay High School
  • Rosny College

John, known by many Tasmanians as ‘John X’, is one of Australia’s most sought-after musical theatre performers and runs his own production company in Hobart. John grew up on Hobart’s eastern shore and says he was one of the only ‘ethnic’ children at his local public school.

John Xintavelonis

He regards himself as the once ‘naughty kid who talked too much, with energy to burn’. John says he was always drawn to music (playing tuba in the school band), languages and sport.

It was at school he discovered his talent and interest in the dramatic arts and says it was a poetry and prose recital in Year 11—for which he received his first ‘A’—that John ‘finally felt good at something’. His teachers at the time were instrumental in encouraging John to pursue a career as an actor. John is proud of his public education and feels blessed to now watch his young daughter attend a public school.

“In public education it doesn’t matter who you are, your background or beliefs, your sexual orientation or how well off your parents are. You are accepted, nurtured and supported in an open environment that doesn’t discriminate or alienate, but at the same time teaches you that life isn’t always fair and there are always going to be hurdles to overcome in life. It sets you up for the pitfalls you may face through life.”

Student Ambassadors

Mali Davis

St Helens District High School

At a young age, Mali has identified in herself a love of learning which extends far beyond the classroom. The Year 6 student says she uses each day as an opportunity to ask questions and seek knowledge.

Mali says her teachers motivate her to do and be her best by encouraging her to take opportunities she wouldn’t otherwise consider, and as a result, Mali seeks to encourage her peers to do the same. Mali has been identified as an inclusive student, who works hard mentoring and supporting others, particularly those in the junior grades.

“School is a place to learn new things… don’t be afraid to ask questions, be open to new experiences and be ambitious and step pit of your comfort zone.”

Mali Davis

Emily Garratt

Rosny College

Emily believes educational success is firmly in the hands of the learner. She says leadership roles in both primary and high school, inspired her to seek out and accept opportunities for further self-development and growth. A highlight for Emily was participating in the National Band Championships during high school, for which the group was awarded third place nationally.

Emily has discovered a love of biological science during her time in public education and plans to pursue further studies in this area, aspiring to study medicine at university.

“I have always been inspired by the community spirit and support within the public education system. I have moved right across the state multiple times and every time have been welcomed, respected and encouraged by the schools which I’ve attended.”

Emily Garratt

Kaytlyn Johnson

Hellyer College

Kaytlyn lives by the motto, ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’. She speaks highly of the diverse learning opportunities provided by her public education, which include working with arts and social-justice company, Big hART, attending the UNSW Indigenous Winter School and participating in the Work Exposure in Government program in Canberra.

A talented musician and keen footballer, Kaytlyn acknowledges potential barriers for young indigenous students in rural areas, but sees public education as a springboard for those with keen aspirations. Kaytlyn aims to position herself as a role model for other young indigenous women in North-West Tasmania.

“Since being exposed to the opportunities the public education system delivers, I understand that the only real barriers are the ones that we place around ourselves. My teachers have taught me the skills to overcome any limits I may face in the future.”

Bryer McKeown

Toby McKnight

Riverside High School

Toby believes the most important skill he’s learned during his public education is the ability to learn how best to learn and says this has been facilitated by his many teachers who have respected how he learns best. Toby was an integral part of his school team which was crowned northern champion of the Science and Engineering Challenge in both 2017 and 2018.

Toby cites his capacity to collaborate and ability to work with and listen to others, as skills embedded by his public education. He aspires to be an actor and contemporary dancer and hopes through this work he will communicate topical community issues and break down societal division.

“Public education encourages and expects each student to do their best. It teaches students not to compare their achievements and abilities with others— as everyone is different, but to set goals and always strive for their personal best.”

Toby McKnight

Tom Rockliff

Don College

Tom hails from rural Tasmania but maintains this has at no stage limited his opportunities. He believes his teachers in public education have demonstrated acceptance, enthusiasm and genuine interest in both Tom and his peers. In 2011 Tom completed much of Year 5 through Tasmanian eSchool as his family caravanned around Australia.

Tom’s schooling has seen him visit Cambodia, where he taught school children, as well as participating in a variety of sporting clubs both as an athlete and coach and representing youth at a variety of events across Tasmania. In 2018, Tom was awarded Lion’s Australia Youth of the Year and speaks of his pride in being the only public school student contending as a finalist. Tom is grateful for his public education and the support, acceptance and values he has gained from his experience so far.

“The way we [as students] are nurtured and encouraged by public education navigates us to dreams and aspirations that go above and beyond what we could ever imagine, not solely restricted to careers, but also to the overall lives we’ll go on to lead.”

Tom Rockliff

Toby Thorpe

  • Huonville High School
  • Hobart College

Toby is an enthusiastic advocate for self-directed learning and climate change, who holds a dual enrolment at both Huonville High School and Hobart College. He stands to break down stereotypes by pursuing new and innovative ways of learning and was part of the team that led Huonville High School to win the international Zayed Sustainability Prize in 2017. Toby also convened the first statewide Tasmanian Youth Climate Leaders Conference, bringing together over 250 students from around 20 schools.

His extracurricular activities have given him the opportunity to travel to Japan, Canberra, Central Australia and Abu Dhabi and he has recently been invited to attend the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland. Toby sees public education and schools as the heart of communities and encourages students to see themselves as the drivers on their own education journeys, rather than the passengers.

“Public education has given me independence and pride in myself and has also provided me the platform to launch into the community, standing up for my ambitions. It is within public education that the values underpinning achievement is focused on equipping students with the skills to be part of a community and becoming respectful citizens for the future.”

Toby Thorpe