St Catherine’s College is a university residential facility in Perth which run a program called Dandjoo Darbalung for Indigenous students from regional and remote Western Australia. Students from any of the five universities in the city can join the program.
There are around 68 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who currently live at St Catherine’s College and, with the new building, this will grow to 100 students.
The new custom designed accommodation was developed in collaboration with the current Indigenous residents at the College and will provide support for many of the regional students as they move to Perth to further their studies.
As well as funding for the development, an expansion to the current Dandjoo Darbalung program was also approved.
Dandjoo Darbalung is a program which runs at the College and offers emotional, educational and cultural support for all the Indigenous students.
Dandjoo Darbalung means ‘mixing together’ in Noongar language.
The name was adapted from the fresh water and the salt water which mixes in the Swan estuary across from the college.
Second year student, Will Fong who moved from Broome said he has seen benefits from the support program.
“One of the most difficult things about leaving home, is not knowing how things work at university or in Perth. Dandjoo Darbalung made it easy to find friends and has helped me have a strong start to uni,” Mr Fong said.
Billie Kickett-Morris, a Noongar woman who graduated from Medicine at UWA in December said she liked the community focus of the program.
“I come from a big Aboriginal family so living here as part of a supportive community made it easier for me to focus on my studies,” she said.
“The Dandjoo Darbalung program encourages us culturally which has made the transition to university so much easier."
Barry McGuire, a Balladong Nyoongar man and ambassador of the program, said the housing development would help support students who travelled from remote communities to study at university.
“This purpose-built accommodation will provide a balanced space for Aboriginal ways of life and learning. From this we will see many prosperous professionals come and stand in all walks of life and proudly represent our people,” he said.
“This is a major boost to education and employment outcomes for young Indigenous people and helps make the transition to university so much easier.”
Federal Minister for Indigneous Health and Age Care, Ken Wyatt, attended the breaking ground ceremony.
"What is going to be developed on this sight, is going to enable young Indigenous Australians to take the next step into pathways that will empower them and give them choices in live across this nation," he told the crowd.
The Dandjoo Darbalung program has received 90 per cent retention rate for Indigenous students.