• Clarence Gibbs from Brewarrina, NSW began learning to read and write at 53-years-old. He features in the documentary, In My Own Words. (NITV)Source: NITV
Whether its completing a PhD or beginning to learn to read, these everyday heroes made their mark.
By
Sophie Verass, Laura Morelli, Travis Cardona

27 Jul 2017 - 5:07 PM  UPDATED 27 Jul 2017 - 5:10 PM

Samuel L. Jackson's screen debut in 'Jungle Games' at the ripe age of 43 showed us that it's never too late to make your successes. And with a background as a social worker and activist, he also proved that many talents can be discovered later in life.

Such is the case for many everyday people who have made milestones in areas they thought were off-limits. From personal goals to professional achievements, many of our mob pursued skills as adults, juggling full time jobs, families and other challenging responsibilities along the way.    

 

Clarence Gibbs

Clarence Gibbs' spent most of his life struggling, not knowing how to read or write; he didn’t know the complete alphabet, his mind would go blank at the ATM and he even found basic math, like counting money to pay for groceries, challenging. The resident of Brewarrina in northwest NSW would utilise friends and local community workers to help him get by, reading his letters and helping him go shopping. 

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At 53-years-old, Clarence finally wanted to learn to read and write, to read his mail, get a "decent job" and do it for his self-esteem. One of his key ambitions was to read a book by himself. Clarence sadly makes up the 40 per cent of Aboriginal adults who have low literacy, neither Clarence's dad or uncles could read or write. Growing up, Clarence didn't worry too much about school and left early labouring in the cotton industry. 

He began taking 'Yes, I Can' classes run by the Literacy for Life program. Not only did Clarence bravely go back to school to finally learn to read and write, but did so in front of a camera crew and is a leading personality in the compelling documentary, In My Own Words

After attending the classes over a period of 6 months, Clarence can now read and write and is continuing to take strides in his new found love of literacy. 

 

James Charles

James Charles is one of Australia’s most prominent podiatrists, currently a Charles Sturt University lecturer and researcher in Podiatry for the School of Community Health. This year he was the recipient of the 2017 NAIDOC Scholar of the Year award for his academic achievements.  Despite his scholarly success, James’ journey is an inspiration - a word, which only years ago, he couldn’t read, write or spell.

However growing up, the Kaurna man struggled at school and eventually dropped to pursue a business trade. Although James had a decent career and provided his family with an income, he considered himself ‘pretty much illiterate’. “Whenever someone would ask me to read something I’d pretend I forgot my glasses or just avoid the situation altogether,” James said. His biggest fear was not being able to spell words for his children, which eventually drove him to go back to school and complete his education.

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He enrolled in a TAFE course, which then lead him to enrol in university and complete an Arts Degree. Along the way,  James found the pathway to podiatry. A master’s degree enabled James to further research his interest and travel to remote communities and provide assistance to those in need of foot healthcare. He then decided to undergo a PhD.

Today, James has been conducting Aboriginal foot health research, investigating a wide range of variables that have an impact on Indigenous people, such as diabetes, smoking and obesity, with a focus on foot structure and function. He knows it may not be something a lot of people are passionate about, but he believes ‘someone’s got to do it’ and with his skill he’ll be able to give back to the community.

 

Dr Peter Radoll PhD

Professor Peter Radoll is a leading academic in business, government and Indigenous affairs and education. He is currently the Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership and Strategy and has a long and impressive list of board positions and consultation roles. But a life in the university lane was not fast for Peter, who spent 11 years as a motor mechanic before considering higher learning.

In fact, Peter didn’t even complete high school and left in Year 10. He says his story - dropping out before Year 12 and having previously worked in a trade - is not uncommon for a lot of Aboriginal professors in Australia and says his journey to academia was “very accidental”.

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It was an adult education course in ‘Word for Windows’ that changed his life forever. On that course he met an elder, Uncle Ray Hurst, whom he became close with and even hosted a radio show with on the local community station in Taree. Uncle Ray thought Peter was "too bright to be a motor mechanic" and filled out a university cadetship application for him.

"I was pretty confident I was too stupid to go to university. I know that sounds silly now," the Anaiwan man says. Yet Peter began an undergraduate degree and went on to do a cadetship, a masters degree to a PhD and is now in full-time academic employment. Despite being a father of five and the main income earner in the household, Peter continued to explore the opportunities his friends and family believed were in his grasp. 

 

Julie Phillips

Gunditjmara grandmother, Julie Phillips, has always lived a healthy lifestyle, but it wasn’t until four years ago when she began her journey as an ultramarathon runner. The 52-year-old was introduced to the activity when she began participating in local fun runs, which eventually lead her to competing in five 100 km events, as well as a 50 km trail run. Julie is also a part of the Diamond Valley Striders, a long distance running group. 

Julie first joined community fun runs through her association with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. It only took her a mere 6 months to go from her first fun run to her first half marathon. A local community member suggested she join a running club, which she regards as 'the best thing she's ever done'. Following 2-3 years from there, turned it up a level and began competing in ultramarathons, where the distance is 50 kms and over.  

Julie says her wellbeing has improved greatly since she began running and she enjoys setting goals and sticking to her program. The mother, grandmother and active member of her community says that running has been a great stress release and her quality of life is "fantastic". "I feel like I’m still in my twenties," she says.

Being involved in the community has always been important to Julie and often uses her marathon running as a means of charity work and sponsorship. 

 

These Olympians

For the past five years, teams of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders (50-years +) from all across NSW have been coming together to compete in a variety of sports and recreational activities.

The annual event named the 'Elders Olympics' aims to give profile to the respective Indigenous communities, celebrate healthy living and provide an opportunity to meet up with other mob in a kind of modern day corroboree. 

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Activities go from traditional sports such as the 100 metre team relay race and netball to less tradtional-more-gammin' games like egg and spoon races, bean bag throwing and team tunnel ball. The games also have - quite literally - traditional games, playing Indigenous sports like Gorri and Kee'an. Competitors train at least two hours a week to prepare for the Olympics.

Aunty Deanna Schreiber, 72, is a competitive Gadigal woman and star quoits player for the Kurranulla Aboriginal Corporation. "It's very fierce, you'd think you were at the real Olympics," she told the ABC.

This year, the Inverell Gomeroi Elders United, made up of 27 elders, took home the gold for their community. The group ended with 17, 786 points, beating their closest rivals by around 800 points. The New England area will consequently host next years' 2018 Games.

The around-500 participants of the Games prove that age is no barrier when it comes to taking home trophies and getting into some good clean friendly competition. 

Watch Clarence's journey, In My Own Words is a part of the #YouAreHere documentary series, airing on Sunday, 30 July at 8.30pm on NITV Ch. 34

 

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