When I reflect on my journey from early childhood, it is me asa Murri kid growing up in Moree (Gomeroi Country), a regional bush town inNorth West NSW. I attended an Aboriginal Pre-School called Kiah Pre School, a couple of hundred metres up the road from the Mission Reserve where my Mother was also raised. I continued my schooling in Moree until the age of 12 when I moved away to a Catholic boarding school on the outskirts of Lismore to finish high school. I realise now how lucky I was in terms of receiving a good education atone of the more prestigious schools in northern NSW.
I also appreciated the new cultural education I was receiving from the many Elders and new friends I would meet across the Bundjalung Nation and into neighbouring Countries, such as Githabul, Yaegl, Gumbaynggirr and Dhunghutti.
Going to boarding school meant I left behind my extended family and many friends. My community in Moree was a strong Aboriginal community, my uncles and cousins had been part of the early Aboriginal Land Rights movement. They were heavily involved in the founding of many Aboriginal essential services in NSW. Services such as Aboriginal Medical Services, Aboriginal Legal Aid and Aboriginal Housing Services.
My father worked many labouring jobs in my early youth, he then moved into Government Services, working in both Federal and State roles. Dad was one of the first AboriginalLiaison Officers at Social Security (now commonly known as Centrelink). My mother worked in administration at the local Hospital in Moree and was successful in obtaining, at the time, a newly created trainee position. These roles were starting to pop up forAboriginal people in what became part of the era of “Self Determination”.
The business was very successful, and this enabled my parents to send me to boarding school. I am very proud of the opportunities my parents afforded tome and the fact that no Aboriginal Scholarship was extended to me.
I arrived at St Johns College Woodlawn in 1989, as one of the six Aboriginal Students enrolled that year. Matthew Kelly (Fellow SAFDirector) was the School Captain of Woodlawn that year and his younger brotherMartin (also fellow SAF Director) joined me in year 8 in 1990. Adapting to life away from my parents and family was difficult at first and being off Country was also a new experience.I ventured home for school holidays but the experience of boarding school grew on me over the years and I look back with fond memories. There was definitely a cultural shock of adapting to life away from family and being in an all boys Catholic boarding school. I went from having a community of Aboriginal family and friends, to just six identified Aboriginal students. Our school had around 500 students made up of all different cultures. We had students from Papua New Guinea and Asian countries, but the predominate culture was White.
Lucky for me, St Johns College Woodlawn was a rugby league school and Moree was a rugby league town. I had played rugby league since I was4 and it was the vehicle that moved you through the social circles at boarding school. Rugby league also allowed us to escape the confines of a boarding school. We would participate in the local competition on weekends and this allowed me to see and compete against other Aboriginal boys my age and give me a feeling of connection that was limited a boarding school for this period. As I moved through high school, more and more Aboriginal students were enrolled at Woodlawn. It became evident that the opportunity of receiving a good education, combined with the opportunity to play rugby league at an elite schoolboy level was very enticing for a lot of Aboriginal parents throughout the regions.
Over the years at Woodlawn there was a developing shift towards a more culturally appropriate curriculum.
Upon graduating from St John’s College and leaving high school, I still had no idea what I would do in terms of a career. I knew it would involve working with the Aboriginal Community in some capacity. By then, my parents had swapped the bush for the beach and we were settled in the Northern Rivers area. I soon picked up a trainee position with Lismore City Council as part of the engineering section responsible for designing roads and overseeing maintenance across the Lismore area.
After I had completed my traineeship I moved to Sydney and worked within the confines of NSW Government Corrective Services. I then moved back to Moree for a short period to have a break from the big smoke. I then began working for the local AboriginalCommunity Controlled Health Organisation called Pius X Aboriginal Organisation.Since its inception the Catholic Church had a strong association to theAboriginal Mission Reserve in Moree where my mother grew up. The Catholic Church had donated the land and buildings back to the community and from this, the Aboriginal Medical Service came into existence. The Church oversaw the Aboriginal Pre School I had attended, Kiah Pre School, so I had now come full circle to some degree.
I was employed at Pius X in the role of Social and EmotionalWellbeing Worker. The Bringing Them Home report was released a few years earlier, which was the National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children from their families, with an emphasis on the Stolen Generation. One of the recommendations from the report was the need for more Mental Health services at a community level.
Funding was released to employ and train more Aboriginal mental health workers. As part of this position, Pius X assisted me through University and I was able to attain Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in mental health through the Djirrawang program. This degree involved travelling to Wagga Wagga, a part of the vast Wiradjuri country, and almost the other side of the state from Moree, Gomeroi Country. From here I began to meet many other Aboriginal students from across the country and made new connections both professionally and personally with like-minded peers.
Upon finishing my degree at Charles Sturt University and graduating I found myself moving once again back to the Northern Rivers, whereI started a new role working in the Local Health District within AdolescentMental Health. Following that I worked as part of a specialised Mental Health team. This team focused on parental mental health drug and alcohol and child protection. I have previously spent time working within Ageing and Disability services, implementing the NDIS roll out. I have volunteered time to the localAboriginal rugby league team and assisted with Northern United RLFC gaining entry into the mainstream competition. This will always be a career highlight for me in terms of social determination.
Wanting to expand my career further I applied and obtained a position back in Sydney working for Justice Health and Forensic Mental HealthNetwork in the role of Project Officer. I am currently in a new position ofStrategy and Engagement Officer.
From living off country for different periods of my life, I know how important it is to be able to go back to Gomeroi Country and plug myself in for a recharge. It is where I pull in the special energy that only comes from revisiting your Country of Origin. It is why, no matter how far and wide Aboriginal people roam, they always make their way back to Country when needed. That is why healing Country and looking after the Country is a very important factor in the life cycle ofAboriginal people
I recall that black fullas didn’t like this term so it was shortened to “A Day”. As a child I would watch my father put a lot of time into organising “A Day” golf tournaments in Moree.I myself have organised NAIDOC Golf tournaments, NAIDOC Balls and other events in the name of celebrating Aboriginal culture. I am proud of how far we have come as a people and recognising how far we have to go.
My family and I have recently celebrated my younger cousin being accepted as the first Aboriginal trainee vascular surgeon. He has similar origins to me in that his mother (my mother’s younger sister) comes from the same Aboriginal Mission Reserve in Moree.
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