IF you take a quick stroll through the Mulwaree High School campus, you’ll see touches of Bill Dorman’s legacy everywhere.
Metalwork sculptures adorn the walls and walkways, artwork borne from students’ imaginations and Mr Dorman’s encouragement. Now, the school’s art metal teacher is stepping back from the role.
But he’s adamant that he’s not retiring; just “changing focus”, as he told PETER OLIVER.
MR Dorman is synonymous with the Project, a program for kids that are disengaged from school for different sorts of reasons, be it family, social or attendance issues.
Since beginning the Project at Mulwaree High, more than 200 kids have passed through the school’s workshop doors and into Mr Dorman’s supervision.
The Project has, over the years, helped out many students who were otherwise struggling.
It’s also offered up employment opportunities for students, including several who have gone into apprenticeships, utilising the skills they learnt in the art metal workshop.
“It’s not a special needs program at all - it’s a workshop. You come and you make things. You might be here because something’s going on in your life, but that’s it. It’s not ‘oh deary, deary me’,” Mr Dorman said.
“The Project gives the school a lot of flexibility to identify the needs of a student; that can be mental health, social reasons, physical reasons, they’re just having a bit of a shit sandwich of life at the moment.
“Sometimes it can help out with attendance issues. But there’s no fees, there’s no essays, all you need to do is think creatively. But, there’s a lot of mathematics, lot of research, communicate. It’s all application by stealth, they don’t even realise they’re doing it.”
And that’s the Project’s success. The workshop is a place of no judgement, no stigma. There’s no testing required to be accepted into the Project, medical or otherwise. Students still have to complete all assignments and exams - it is “not an excuse not to work”.
“It’s interesting, because a lot of those special projects do attract a stigma, but because when kids look at it, everyone’s here for a different reason,” Mr Dorman said.
It’s a strong relationship that Mr Dorman shares with his students; more likely to provide a verbal kick up the backside, followed by a quick word of encouragement and then on with the job at hand.
It’s closer to a relationship you’d share with a favourite uncle, rather than a teacher.
“As a teacher, it’s how you hook the kid in. They come to me because the kid hasn’t been hooked in, and it’s the Project’s job to find out where that hook is,” he said.
“People often ask me if I can send a copy of the program we run here, and I say ‘yeah, just be human’. Or to a principal, I’ll say ‘find a teacher with a passion, and support it’. My passion is hands on work. If you want to fail them for english, don’t come to me. I’ll fail them if they can’t use their hands, or can’t think creatively.
“I think we sometimes get buried in the justification and detail and paperwork of teaching. How many Aboriginal elders sat down by the side of the river with a lesson plan and taught a kid how to fish? You fished, and if you caught no fish, then gee, you learned a lot about how not to fish.”
Mr Dorman’s link with Mulwaree High stretches back to 1993, when his skills as a enameller, silver-jeweller and “maker of stuff since I was a boy” came into their own.
“About six weeks after I started, the boss came in and said ‘we’ve got no more space in any electives, have you got anything you could offer if we started up an elective now?’,” he recalls.
“The workshop was full of chipboard and was used a storeroom. By the end of the first term, we had the art metal workshop set up, and it’s grown since then.”
About 12 years ago, Mr Dorman was approached by the then school counsellor who had secured $10,000 to put towards students with mental health issues. She suggested the money be used towards an art metal class, incorporating metal sculpture work and mosaics.
The money was to last one year, which it did.
Other external funding was sourced, including from the Veolia Mulwaree Trust, who have been strong supporters of the Project. Until then-principal Tom Coll put the Project’s wages component into the school’s budget, removing the need to go cap in hand for funding.
The Project was, in essence, self-sufficient, thanks to its annual auctions.
In the past, the Project’s auctions have paid for special teachers aides, materials, tools, computers, helmets and even a computer plasma cutter (with assistance from the Mulwaree Trust).
This year’s auction raised $8400, which will see, once GST has been paid, some $7500 flow back to the school’s metalwork program coffers.
The metal bull, featured on the Goulburn Post’s front page on December 9, went for $500, and has found its home at a local butcher’s. Other pieces sold well. A pegasus fetched $250, with several other pieces reaching up to $300.
“The reason I love these pieces going to auction is that I’m not putting a price on it, they’re not putting a price on it. The money doesn’t go to them, and it doesn’t come to me. It’s valued by auction,” he said.
“There’s always a few pieces where you don’t get why they go so cheaply, or attract a high price. Some of them are just fun, they really appeal to someone’s eye. They’re an artwork.
“So that’s really exciting. It’s there to show the kids what people who don’t know them from a bar of soap think of their work.”
From next year, Mr Dorman will be stepping back from full time work. He’ll continue to work one day a week on the Project for at least a year, but wants to head back into his own workshop and into his own creative area.
He’s been invited to New Zealand as an international artist in 2017, and plans, if finances allow, to attend artistic collaborations around the globe.
Already, he’s building up his body of work, and plans to focus on exhibitions in the future.
“It’s not that I won’t be busy, it’s that I’ll be choosing the busyness,” he said.