Amy Levai (nee O'Donoghue) was the first Aboriginal teacher to be trained and permitted to teach in South Australia. Amy completed her Early Childhood Certificate for kindergarten in 1950 and then spent three years as the Kindergarten Director at Mt Margaret Mission in Western Australia. In 1950, Amy applied to attend the Adelaide Teachers College, but was rejected. She was told "we do not have Aboriginal people in teacher training". That knock back and the subsequent ones to come, made Amy more determined and she continued to "pester" the South Australian Education Department until she was finally accepted in 1957. Amy taught in many schools around South Australia including Parkside Primary School, Williamstown Primary School, Eden Hills Primary School, Kaurna Plains Aboriginal School, and her beloved North Adelaide Primary School where she taught for 14 years. Amy was a much loved and admired teacher for her gentle and warm approach to educating children. There are literally thousands of children who were lucky enough to have been taught by Amy, they have never forgotten her and they never will. Former SA Premier Dean Brown, singer Sia (Furler) and model Emma Balfour are amongst some of Amy's former students.
Amy retired from teaching in 1993 and for five years couldn't even walk past a school, she found it too "painful". Amy had always led a very busy life teaching, and she also managed to fit in a marriage plus raising five children - three stepchildren and two of her own.
In 1989, Amy was awarded "NAIDOC Aboriginal of The Year" and in 1998 "NAIDOC Aboriginal Elder of The Year" in South Australia. She also received an award for Outstanding Service in March 2010 from the Eastern Metropolitan Regional Forum of the Council of Aboriginal Elders SA.
In November 2012, the then Minister for Education and Child Development in South Australia, Grace Portolesi, announced that the SA Department for Education and Child Development would award ten annual scholarships to carry Amy's name as the Amy Levai Aboriginal Teaching Scholarships, to assist the recipients as they embark on the new Pathways into Teaching program. The scholarships provide financial assistance and a pathway to employment for Aboriginal people studying to become a teacher. Amy was congratulated for her 35 years of service teaching in South Australian primary schools and for her professionalism, dedication and inspirational teaching practices.
Amy thanked the Department by saying "Teaching has been my life, it has been the thing that I loved doing the most. To be able to give to children and help them to learn, grow and move forward is a very special opportunity". Amy believed that as an individual, you could make a difference to each and every child in your classroom.
Amy Levai passed away peacefully in Adelaide on Good Friday, March 29th 2013. Her legacy will always remain for as long as children everywhere are given the opportunity to learn to read and write and are encouraged to be the best that they can be.
In honour of Amy Levai, a memorial fund was set up. Click here to contribute to the fund.
Amy would have liked nothing better than to know that Aboriginal children will always have the opportunity to read books.