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The high school program the whole sector should follow

Rebekah Smith running a Deadly Dreaming workshop

“Aboriginal Australia is not a deficit story. It’s a really positive story, and these kids can choose the part they play in that story,” Sharna Walley, Senior Training Manager First Nations said.

Every year hundreds of Aboriginal kids across Western Australia are being inspired to aim for greatness thanks to Deadly Dreaming, a one-of-its-kind workshop program aimed at getting more mob to finish high school. 

Some of the kids who have come through the program are now about to finish university.

Jim Eatt is one of those students, who attended Deadly Dreaming in high school and is today well on the way to a double major in law and criminology at Murdoch.

“The impact of it opening doors and opening people’s eyes to opportunities is massive,” Eatt said.

“I saw a lot of my peers who came into the program with no idea what they would do after high school say, ‘okay yep that’s what I want, to come to uni’.”

The workshops were started at the Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre by Sharna Walley, who saw a disconnect in how Indigenous students were being engaged by universities. What they really needed was help getting through high school.

Walley began by researching the barriers to young people finishing Year 12.

“We sifted through every bit of research that has been done on Aboriginal young people and high school retention to find out what the barriers were,” Walley said.

“What we found was they were feeling isolated, they were experiencing racism, they had a lack of access to role models, and university wasn’t something they had all seen in their community.

“So, we said let’s start teaching kids about those things… Let's talk about racism. Let's have a conversation about how to overcome stereotypes to break through those barriers. Let’s teach them about Aboriginal success.”

Jacob Wehr-Murphy running a Deadly Dreaming workshop at a school

The result was a program that Aboriginal high school students across the state are leaning into.

It’s not only teaching students important concepts and life skills, but also getting them to think about and share their own dreams for the future and the important role models in their lives.

Jacob Wehr-Murphy, who goes into high schools to facilitate the workshops, said the way they are run is an important part of their success.

We deliver the workshops in a way that’s a lot more personal than what they are getting at school,”
Jacob Wehr-Murphy, workshop facilitator

“Our community and culture is based around storytelling and opening up first, and then having someone open up with you.

“So, by telling our stories first, these students can relate to us, feel connected, feel safe, and begin to share some of their journeys, their goals, and their dreams.”

The unique set of workshops culminates in a celebration of young people’s Aboriginality, where hundreds of students come together on campus to connect with each other, recognise their culture, and explore whether university might be the next step in their journey.

Deadly Dreaming event on campus at Murdoch University

“What I remember most from Deadly Dreaming was a really good sense of community,” Eatt said about his experience.

“It provided a great opportunity just to be with your mob – and also a really important chance for younger mob to celebrate culture.”

Deadly Dreaming remains the only program of its kind in Australia and today provides a platform for hundreds of Aboriginal kids to see what’s possible when they value education – and aspire to be deadly.

Walley knows the power of this firsthand, having arrived at university in challenging personal circumstances to a warm welcome by people truly invested in her success.

“When I first came here, there was an auntie who greeted me and she was like, ‘we've been expecting you’ and it felt like Nana's house,” Walley said.

“It felt like I was right where I belonged, and I want more Aboriginal kids to know that they belong at university too.”

Watch the story on ABC News
Learn more about the incredible student support provided by Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre.
Posted on:

9 Jul 2024

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