Education system bullies picked on the wrong woman

I bet you have not read a CV like this before. I certainly have not.

Tracy Tully has been a scholar, a barmaid, a rodeo rider, a racehorse strapper, a children's book author, a cosmetic and medical tattooist, a federal Coastwatch surveillance officer tracking drug runners and uninvited immigrants, a search-and-rescue specialist, a dugong counter, a professional public speaker, a Royal Lifesaving Society instructor and a whistleblower commended by police for exposing a dirty old headmaster in north Queensland and helping send him to prison.

And for 38 years she has been a principal in some of Australia's most remote schools; from Mornington Island, Burketown, Camooweal and Mount Isa in the north, to Charleville and Eromanga, Warwick and Oakey in the south.

"I've been an itinerant teacher for most of my life," she said.

It was in the north that Tracy travelled with an attack dog, a swag and a rifle by her side.

Her students at one school included teenage rapists and rape victims.

I've known members of the Tully clan all my life.

They originally came from Ireland and were among Queensland's first settlers.

They bred cattle and sheep and have sometimes excelled in the public service and other professions.


Whistleblowing principal Tracy Tully. Picture: Adam Yip
Whistleblowing principal Tracy Tully. Picture: Adam Yip


Tullies don't scare easily. They do not take a backward step.

Tracy Tully has shown that in clashes with education department bureaucrats.

She caused uproar recently when she gave an interview to The Sunday Mail's Stephanie Bennett, speaking out about a toxic culture of bullying and favouritism in the Queensland education department.

Tully also told Bennett the powerful Queensland Teachers' Union was a Labor puppet.

Tully said she and others were heckled for not openly advocating for the Labor Party, and at a public meeting was told in front of witnesses to sit down and shut up.

Tracy doesn't know Woodridge manual arts teacher, David Frarricciardi, but their stories of union wrongdoing are strikingly similar.

Last year on this page Frarricciardi told how he quit the QTU because he was tired of its relentless promotion of ALP candidates and causes.

Tully claims QTU members were pressured to distribute Labor Party material in the lead-up to state elections, and that principals who refused to go on strike were harassed.

She told me teachers in marginal seats were transferred if they did not co-operate with pro-Labor campaigns.

"They ousted a principal who would not support the Labor Party," she said.

"They wanted me to distribute Labor Party pamphlets and I refused.''


Education Queensland headquarters in Brisbane. Picture: Wikimedia Commons
Education Queensland headquarters in Brisbane. Picture: Wikimedia Commons


She believes the cosy relationship between the QTU and the education department fosters intimidation and corruption.

She has made a complaint to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Like Frarricciardi, Tully said she was a swinging voter who has never been a member of a political party.

She resented it when the union started throwing its weight around and deliberately trying to undermine her authority.

She recalls a hostile meeting where a group of unionists arrived to tell her to change the curriculum.

"They came into my office and shut the door and started to tell me what to do.

"It was highly unprofessional, and I told them so. I sent them packing. I said, don't dare come and here and try to stand over me. I told them the union does not run the school, the principal does.

"The union wouldn't know how to run a school. I said,

'Next time make an appointment and we can discuss it'."

She has an unpleasant memory of her days in Charleville in 2011 when she disobeyed an order by a bureaucrat not to close the school as flood waters rose.

"When the water got up to my knees I knew it was time to get out,'' she said.

Police friends told her she had done the right thing, but the department sent two Ethical Standards Unit men to investigate her.


David Frarricciardi quit the Queensland Teachers’ Union last year for similar reasons.
David Frarricciardi quit the Queensland Teachers’ Union last year for similar reasons.


In her memoir FEARless (Ultimate World Publishing), she says she felt bullied.

"The guys acted like police officers serving a summons," she said.

Tully said she stood her ground and dismissed "wild" allegations against her and other teachers.

"They threw a giant toddler tantrum, raising their voices and slamming their hands on the table, then stormed out of the interview room," she wrote.

"Welcome to the Queensland education department's investigative process."

The tape-recorded meeting was an attempt to "shame me" and "break me", she said. It didn't.

Tully, 60, from Charleville and Toowoomba, said several teachers suffering anxiety due to bullying had contacted her after she blew the whistle in the Sunday Mail.

Chris Neville at Condon Charles Lawyers in Toowoomba has been engaged by them to start a class action.

Tully, who was described by a colleague as a voice for the voiceless, says wrongdoing festers behind the scenes because teachers are prevented from speaking out by the Public Service Act.

The Act strips teachers and principals of their basic human rights, she said.

The department was "a secret world where those who step out of line were harassed by narcissist bureaucrats".

"You can't defend yourself. They allow anyone to make an allegation without a signed statutory declaration and without evidence. It's a free for all.''

Des Houghton is a media consultant and a former editor of The Courier-Mail, The Sunday Mail and Sunday Sun

Originally published as Education system bullies picked on the wrong woman


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