In 2008, I decided to make a change in my life: I applied to two Universities. However, UNSW told me I didn’t have the academic capability to undertake a degree – and did I prove them wrong, or what?! The Koori Centre accepted my application for the Cadigal Program, and I am forever thankful that they chose to take a chance on me.
My adventure began in February 2009 with a two-week orientation program. It was a lot of fun, informative and most importantly, it allowed me to meet some amazing young Aboriginal people who I am still friends with today. I am so proud of them and of the journeys they have taken.
I must admit, I was overwhelmed and I’m pretty sure I was in shock, but the support I received from the amazing Tanya Griffiths and Freda Hammond, and the other Indigenous students on campus, was amazing. For them to let me use them as a sounding board and answer my endless questions was a gift – I must thank Bec, Ben, Sally, Zoe and Madeline, for accepting me just as I am.
For the non-Indigenous people reading this, this is just who we are and what we do: we support each other and we look out for each other, and that’s why having a safe, culturally appropriate space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on campus is essential. A space to connect and share yarns, food and our culture is important – it’s what keeps many students going in the often quite alien culture that is USyd.
Two years later, I was feeling less overwhelmed and had made some amazing friends in the Education Faculty – both academics and students. It was interesting, watching some non-Aboriginal students struggle with identity concepts, reaching outside the insular circles they were accustomed to. They were beginning to understand the struggles for educational access that Indigenous people face. I began to share my culture and life experiences with my cohort, telling stories to help them to understand that differences can sometimes be good and to remind them that Aboriginal people have succeeded in spite of the opposition and barriers was face from the government and mainstream media.
By 2012, I was more involved in student politics and became one of two Indigenous Office Bearers on the SRC. It was during this time that I became aware that some students were in dire need of re-educating on certain social issues. A year later, I was lecturing Education students on how to connect with Aboriginal communities when they began working in schools and conversing with English curriculum students about how to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait literature into teaching.
All students need to acknowledge that yes, they are studying at The University of Sydney, and it is a privilege to be there – but that every single student earned their place at university. Don’t go judging someone because of their background – I worked damned hard to graduate, while also being a mum and working part time.
My advice to USyd students is to always ask an Indigenous person what they think is best – don’t try and ‘save’ us and don’t stereotype Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I’m not ungrateful for the support given to me by non-Indigenous people, and I know I wouldn’t have succeeded without them in my life – but I believe that being able to share support, friendship and love with Indigenous students at USyd enriched my time at university immensely.
You must understand there any many types of Indigenous people in Australia – not all of us look like Ernie Dingo, run like Cathy Freeman or play league like Greg Inglis.
We come in many shades and from many cultures, and at the heart of what connects lies our shared experiences and pride in our identity. My education at The University of Sydney was one of the best experiences of my life and I hope to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students graduate and one day achieve great things, perhaps Prime Minister – or better yet, President of Australia!
Finally, to those wonderful, crazy Koori Centre students I left behind: I love you, keep fighting the good fight, beat the stereotypes and just stay deadly.