• 13 students from Arnhem Land travel to Sydney to begin their bachelors degree. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Sydney is a long way from home for the 13 Indigenous students from Arnhem Land, but each of them is embracing city life to gain a bachelor’s degree and close the gap on education.
Brooke Fryer

19 Feb 2019 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 19 Feb 2019 - 9:42 AM

Students who successfully completed Macquarie University's on-Country bridging course in south-east Arnhem Land have arrived in Sydney to begin their bachelor's degree next week. 

The 13 students are part of a larger group of 25 to attend a bridging course - known as ‘bush university’ - which is located on the outstation of Wuyagiba, in remote Ngukurr. 

The course combined traditional skills and knowledge, such as how to fish, and identify bush medicine, with tertiary education skills.

Bush university participant Melissa Andrews-Wurramarrba said she finds comfort in knowing she will be  the first Indigenous teacher in the Ngukurr community when she eventually graduates with a Bachelor degree in primary education.

“I want to take everything that I am going to learn here and teach my younger generations back home,” she told NITV News.

Ms Andrews-Wurramarrba said it was a challenge being so far from home, but she saw some familiarity in the surroundings at Macquarie University.

“Sydney is really different from my community, the buildings, the environment. But I guess coming here ... we have the trees that remind me of home and the lake down there reminds me of the big lake back home,” she said.

Ms Andrews-Wurramarrba said she wants to be a leader within her town so younger generations can achieve an education too.

“I want my family to feel proud about me coming to university because there used to be [only] Elders coming to university," she said. "We want more of us coming to university and achieve what we want to achieve."

“Keep following your dreams and never give up on your education.”

For the next 12-months, the students will complete a bespoke Bachelor of Arts degree on a full-time work load, with their grade point average determining if they continue with the degree or are eligible to move to another degree if desired. 

Pro-vice chancellor of Indigenous strategy at Macquarie University, Leanne Holt, said one major drive for the students is to one day be workers and leaders within their home communities.

“One of the biggest things the young people are saying to us at the moment is [these roles are being]  taken up by non-Aboriginal people… so their real vision is that they can actually be qualified to be able to do that themselves,” Ms Holt said.

“Another big thing is about inspiring future generations… they sort of feel that by taking this step they are contributing to their own future leadership within the community and being role models.”

Sue Pickham, Macquarie University's Aboriginal cultural advisor, said the students were settling in well, aside from one aspect.

“The biggest issue that they seem to be having here is that the air smells different, and that seems to be pretty spot on… the air is different in Sydney,” she said.