At Curtin’s School of Education 2018 Awards Night in late May, Clarke was presented with the Miles Medal Award, for overall excellence in academic performance, and also the WA Secondary School Executives Association Award for demonstrating the highest level of academic performance and teaching competency.
With the world his oyster, he has begun his teaching career alongside five classroom teachers and principal Adriano Truscott at an almost 100 per cent Indigenous school, roughly in the middle of nowhere.
It’s a long way from the all-boys private school he attended in Perth, but Clarke wouldn’t be anywhere else.
Though not Indigenous himself, he says his parents’ interest in Indigenous issues has had an affect on him from an early age.
“I was brought up in a household where equity in education was something that was very important...
“I suppose it was probably my parents and also exposure to high quality teaching at Curtin that brought in a lot of Indigenous perspective in how you could teach Indigenous students in the ways that they learn best, but also when teaching non-Indigenous students, making sure that you’re representing that culture and history respectfully and accurately.”
Clarke found that his passion for, and interest in, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and improving their educational outcomes was somewhat stymied in his metropolitan setting, and so put his hand up and applied into the remote teaching service pool with the WA Education Department .
“On the second last day on my placement ... I got a call from Adriano [Truscott, principal] at Wiluna, saying 'we’ve got a vacancy here for a term for high school boys', 95 per cent Indigenous, and would I be interested - and I just jumped at it.
“I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay, it was more of a trial to see whether it was a good fit at Wiluna.
“It was only about two weeks [in] and I thought, ‘nah, I’m definitely staying, can you sign me up for three years – I want to stay’.
“I just fell in love with the place, the kids, the on-country learning and how engaged the parents were and family members and elders.
“I think that was the most powerful thing about how our school operates - it’s how integrated the school is to the community and having community members involved with the school.”
Many of Wiluna’s 80 students' parents and guardians work at the school, creating a powerful connection within the community.
“We’re always inviting parents and guardians and family members to become involved with the school,” Clarke says.
“We have yarning evenings, open classroom days, we have on-country learning where parents and guardians come out with us and share that knowledge that they have, that’s been passed down to them.
“So there’s lots of opportunities for myself as the teacher to build strong relationships with those parents and guardians and families."
Clarke says he has settled into his new life seamlessly.
“We have a very supportive collegial staff and we do a lot of things together, we get involved with things in the community, so that certainly helps,” he says.
“Having that strong team around me has meant I’ve never felt isolated; I think that’s really important in remote settings – you need to have a strong, supportive team.
“The community spirit in Wiluna is really quite amazing. We do try to all get involved – whether it’s netball after school or community barbecues – there’s always something going on and I think that’s something which really brings people together and certainly reduces that feeling of isolation.
“It’s really not until you get up in the plane and you’re leaving or landing at Wiluna, there’s red dirt from horizon to horizon, then you get that feeling of ‘oh yeah’, we do live right on the edge of the desert’, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way once you’ve been part of the community."
Clarke has 18 high school-age boys under his care.
For their high school classes, the boys and girls are separated, as the school found that minus the distractions, there was a significant improvement in learning and behaviour.
He says student attendance is probably one of his greatest work challenges.
“And that goes down to transiency and cultural considerations.
“Sometimes things happen in the community and people have to take off, that’s been an adjustment.
“I've been working hard on really moving our students to individual learning programs, whereby they can pick up where they’ve taken off once they come back to us and they’re not at a disadvantage because of cultural considerations, where they’ve had to leave school for a week or two.
“So that’s something that I’m very strict on, I suppose.
“I know where my students are – and when they come back into the classroom, we go back to that point and they’re not getting lost because they’ve been away for a certain amount of time.
And while his principal, Adriano, has been a massive support and influence in a range of ways – including fast-tracking his acceptance into the community through introductions to families and elders – it’s at school and particularly with regard to the curriculum and syllabus where his influence has been appreciated.
“The most powerful thing that he’s given me is the way in which the school has embraced two-way learning and traditional knowledge and really explicitly showing families and inviting families to share what they know.
"And [also] the students to learn in their own way and to use Aboriginal English, and then using that as a springboard to teach standard Australian English.
“Sharing and valuing traditional knowledge that families and students have has been just so important."
Clarke has no intention of going anywhere for a good while yet.
“I came in 2017 in Term 4 and there had been six teachers of the high school boys in that year prior to me coming.
“I’m now in my third term and I have no intention of leaving – I’m loving it.
“I have seen dramatic improvement in behaviour, in attendance, in engagement – because they can see ‘oh, you’re not leaving at the end of the year or the end of this term.
“The trust is massive, it’s crucial.”