A group of 25 young people from the remote community of Wadeye in the Northern Territory have visited Sydney to take part in an ongoing Youth Leadership and Career Development Program.
Laura Morelli

10 Aug 2016 - 3:39 PM  UPDATED 10 Aug 2016 - 3:57 PM

The boys and girls gather around together, laughter can be heard among conversation in their traditional language of Murrinh-Patha. The Wadeye mob thinks about their recent trip to Sydney, talking about the importance of their culture, and the deep history behind it. These are the young role models that will become the next generation of leaders, to ensure their culture lives on now and with generations yet to come.

The Leadership Program was developed and funded by the Stronger Communities for Children Program that is led by a committee of local people called the Kardu Lurruth Ngala Purrungime- Lets be Stronger Together. Which is facilitated by the Palngun Wurnangat Aboriginal Corporation.

The committee saw a need to re-engage the young people who have been away at boarding school into employment or leadership roles in the community.

Indigenous Youth Coordinator, Mark Tunmuck says these leadership trips are an eye opener for the youth.

“The most interesting thing for the boys and girls was meeting local Indigenous people in Sydney. They really wanted to learn about their culture and to know about what happened back when Captain Cook came in Phillip Island. So being taught more about history and seeing where the first people arrived was really powerful for them.”

Wadeye youth member, Eric Kinthari, has always been interested in being a leader and he says traveling to a big city to do and see things never seen before really taught him respect for his culture.

“You know, I reckon it’s good to keep culture, it’s the number one thing for our people and I want to encourage others to learn more about the way in which we live.”

The 22-year-old was surprised to see how some Aboriginal people have forgotten their traditions and he wants to make sure this never happens back home.

“I can’t stop thinking about how lucky we are here, with our own culture, the fact that it’s been kept alive - unlike other places… People my age in Redfern didn’t know how to speak their own language and I thought that was really sad… I want to continue our traditions and teach them, my children, and theirs in the generations yet to come.

“An important part of leadership development is exposure to both history and new experiences.”

Tunmuck says it’s important the students want to see, show and tell.

“I’m seriously really really proud of the way they handled themselves. They told their stories in front of several different people, thanking everyone and really being interested in their culture,” he said.

“Even now, they keep talking about their trip and wanting to know more, to hear Indigenous stories back in the day.”

The Leadership and Career Development program is delivered by the Thathangathay Foundation that operates a youth drop in service and support programs for young people. Facilitators Duane Vickery and Lynda Ah Mat of ETM Perspectives were engaged to deliver the formal training with the support of local team leaders. They have been working with the youth over the past two months, facilitating leadership development in community and on country.

The National Centre of Indigenous Excellence hosted the participants over the one week course. They had the opportunity to meet a number of community leaders young innovative change makers from Redfern and Sydney metropolitan area, whilst also exploring possible career pathways and program ideas by visiting NITV, Koori Radio and other relevant organisations.

Kirstie Parker, CEO of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence says it’s an honour to host young leaders from Wadeye.

“We know that an important part of leadership development is exposure to both history and new experiences,” she said.

“Our culturally safe space right in the heart of Redfern gives our young people the chance to walk in the steps of Aboriginal history-makers from different mobs, to see these sites of our recent history – the Block, the Medical Service, Gadigal and other community controlled services – and to meet local leaders and community.”

Redfern was chosen as the ideal location due to the significant role that leaders and the community of Redfern and Sydney have played in influencing national policy and pursuing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

SCFC Program Manager, Sorrell Ashby, says it’s important for young people to learn and know about our history as a nation, in order to know where we are going and how we get there.

“Sometimes you need to get out of the community, where it can be very overwhelming, and seeing what other people do to address issues. This space to think enabled them to consider who they are and what they want to do in their future,” she said.

The participants have now returned to take part in the second phase of the program, focusing on career pathway development where youth will be offered a range of opportunities from apprenticeships, further education and leadership opportunities and work placements.

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Sorrell Ashby is a Kamalaroi woman, who grew up in Gundagai. The 26-year-old developed the Stronger Communities for Children Program Facilitated by the Palngun Wurnangat Aboriginal Cooperation.

This is the first time Wadeye, one of the largest remote communities in the NT, has seen a youth program focused on leadership development. Ashby spoke about the importance of keeping tradition and culture alive, which was ultimately the reason she created this program, to help youth become engaged with their roots and look forward to spreading their stories.

“Majority of young people come back and become disengaged. The community said they want to see their young educated people return and step up in roles of leadership to promote active community participation for our small town.”

Ashby says the issue is that young people need to know they have a purpose in life and they need to know what they are capable of doing for their society.

“If you talk to the young people here, they don’t necessarily speak about the future and where they want to be. So it’s about identifying their needs and helping them get into the career they want to be. There aren’t enough jobs in the community for everyone, so this is also about being a positive role model for youth and about working with young people to make positive decisions for their future,” Ashby said.

“In the past there’s been issues here amongst youth, we're looking to change this and get children to step up and be part of the community. When you’ve got a population where more than half are children, you need to hear their voice, and they need to have their own say because sometimes adults just don’t know what young children really need.”

The program saw children determine what leadership is and how to work as a team. They also learn about culture, bridging relationships with elders, knowing their identity, relationship and country.
“People are meant to go out and learn about it on the ground, there’s nothing better than being there to see and do and make change. You can see the outcome which is better than being in the city, hours away not being able to see the change.”

Ashby says that the key thing for youth to take home was learning about their history.

“I wanted them to realise how lucky they are to have their culture. Not to be ashamed but to embrace it, and to keep it strong. I told them to feel grateful, the fact that once you lose it it’s gone and you can’t get it back, we already deal with enough problems in Wadeye … imagine if we lost our culture too.”

The youth have made an impact on their community, with more becoming involved in local sports, coaching and assisting other younger members.

“The youth look up to the young men participating in the leadership programs. They see a local person in the job and they think ‘hey I can to do that when I’m older’ and that’s what we’re really about… Implementing ideas about what to do when you grow up, seeing opportunity and potential.”

After growing up in a different community, Ashby’s worked hard to make a difference in the Wadeye community by teaching the importance of culture.

“Everyone only thought I’d last a few months in this job, but that’s not the case. Being young, people make assumptions, but I say being young is an asset; I wake up and give it 100% because I’ve got the energy to do so at my age.”

“Being here makes me realise the importance and want to learn my own language and about my country, I am lucky that I have people like my Aunty Rhonda who speaks and teachers our language. Cultural things like that, you need to grasp while you’re there, before it’s too late.