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Catching crocs and parking jets – all in a day’s training

By Patrick Nelson

Katherine-based vocational education and training lecturer Christopher Dixon at Casuarina campus Katherine-based vocational education and training lecturer Christopher Dixon at Casuarina campus

Long-time vocational education trainer Christopher Dixon never ceases to be amazed by the content and variety of student presentations in his “train the trainer” classes.

Among many memorable presentations were ones that involved catching a crocodile, parking a jet aeroplane and inspecting breasts for cancer.

Mr Dixon has been delivering the Training and Assessment course, and its earlier iterations, in Katherine and across the Top End, for about 20 years.

“I have watched so many interesting presentations, although they don’t always go to plan,” he said.

“One unusual assessment took place on a boat early one morning among mangrove-infested waterways around Darwin.

“I was there to assess Tommy Nichols teach his rangers how to catch crocodiles.

“We set off at 2am and spent the next three hours chugging slowly along dark creeks with overhanging branches.

“We saw a few crocodiles but on this occasion they all got away.”

Mr Dixon said another assessment took place at Darwin airport involving a student whose presentation involved guiding a passenger jet to its parking stand on the tarmac.

“This was a funny one, although not for the student.

“We had done all the theory in a training room at the airport before the trainee went on to the tarmac with his orange signal bats to guide the pilot in.

“The pilot knew an assessment exercise was taking place and decided to tease the trainee by disregarding the signals.

“When the flagman pointed one way, the pilot steered the plane the other way.

“As you might imagine the trainee freaked out, but the event was observed with some mirth by those ‘in the know’.”

And then there was the “breast exam” at Nhulunbuy Hospital.

“I was the only male in a classroom of a dozen or more nurses all talking about how to identify, diagnose and treat breast cancer.

“Part of the assessment involved feeling breasts for lumps. Not real ones; we had a selection of prosthetic breasts to examine.

“My student apologised in case I was embarrassed, but I assured her that having grown up in the 1960s and ‘70s there was nothing that embarrassed me.”

Mr Dixon said his students made his job fascinating.

“I really enjoy seeing someone’s confidence in their own ability to grow as the course progresses.

“They all have different skills and ideas and it’s my job to hone those skills so they can experiment with ways to become great trainers. I teach my students to vibrate with enthusiasm.”

Mr Dixon said some students had told him that training had changed their lives.

“John was a security guard at Mt Todd mine. He completed the training and assessment course and within a few years he was a manager at the mine in Jabiru.

“Melody was an unemployed mother of three in a precarious situation. She completed the course and immediately set up her own training organisation teaching women how to look after their cars. Then she got a job at NT University teaching English after which she was headhunted to run a community education centre in Melbourne.

“She said it would not have been possible without the course I delivered.”

Mr Dixon mused about his decision to move to Australia, sparked largely by a bitterly cold English winter in the early 1980s.

“I arrived home one day wearing seven layers of clothes and a pair of moon boots to find a postcard from my parents who, by contrast, had just visited a beach during their Australian summer holiday.

“The blue sea and yellow sand on the card convinced my wife and I that there was a better life somewhere other than Wiltshire.”

They sold their MG and headed for the Antipodes, ending up at Numbulwar on the Gulf of Carpentaria where first impressions prompted a dramatic change of heart.

“We were given a brief tour of the community after which we asked to be taken back to the airport. It was too uncivilised for us. But the next plane was not due for a week so we stayed, and we ended up staying for eight years.”

Mr Dixon worked as a technical studies teacher with post-primary boys at Numbulwar School and as an adult educator for the Education Department before moving to Katherine in the 1990s.

“At the time, and after my time in Numbulwar, I thought Katherine was the London, Paris and New York of the world.

“And I have lived here now for 24 years during which time I have delivered training in language, literacy and numeracy, information technology, office skills and training and assessment in almost every community in the region.”

He continues to deliver the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. In February he guided 32 head stockmen from the Australia Agricultural Company through four units from the Certificate IV course in Training and Assessment at Katherine Rural Campus.

“They wrote lesson plans, delivered training in very practical subjects such as riding horses and motorbikes, wrote assessment plans, designed and adapted CDU's assessment tools and validated some of the assessment processes and tools.”

Mr Dixon has, or will, deliver Certificate IV in Training and Assessment and the Diploma of VET course in Darwin, Katherine and Nhulunbuy in March and April.

“Every student’s presentation is important and I’m looking forward to every one of them,” he said.