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Becoming the best role model I can be

2015 graduate Gabrielle Ebsworth gave the following speech at an event marking NAIDOC Week in the Sydney office of AIEF Corporate Partner Perpetual on 8 July 2016.

Gabrielle entered Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart on an AIEF Scholarship in Year 10. She began studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne in 2016 and she is currently undertaking a work placement in community relations at the Northparkes mine near her home town of Narromine, NSW.

Thank you for such a beautiful welcome to the land, I’m extremely honoured to be here today.

I was lucky enough to receive an AIEF Scholarship to Kincoppal-Rose Bay, where I spent my final three years of high school. My time at Kincoppal was so great I honestly struggle to know where to start. I made some of my closest friends at Kincoppal, most of whom were also on the scholarship. I got to experience a whole other world, coming from a small town in rural NSW. I got given so many amazing opportunities from the school and the AIEF, all of which has lead me to being here today.

I’m from just outside of Dubbo and come from the stereotypical Aboriginal family of many children and many many cousins. My family honestly mean absolutely everything to me, and I would not be here without them, they’ve always supported me and believed in me. I’m a believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, so when my aunt found the AIEF website the summer before Year 10, I thought ‘yes, this is it, a big flashing sign saying: Golden Ticket’

Of course, I had my struggles, mainly with homesickness and being at a new school, especially boarding, but I pushed trough it. One of the great things about Kincoppal was that we were a really tight knit group of Indigenous girls, and by the end of it we were like sisters. They all understood completely what I was going through I probably wouldn’t have made it through without them. Though boarding school was made easier by my experience at home, with four little siblings under the age of seven, lack of privacy and abundance of noise were things I already knew very well.

I was also so beyond lucky to have such an amazing mentor, Janet, who supported me so much over my three years at Kincoppal and still does to this day. The mentor meetings that I had with her were something that I would always look forward to; being able to escape the boarding house for an afternoon and to be able to talk to someone who was successful in a field that I might like to get into later in life. Our mentor meetings ranged from everything to coffee, or the movies, or an art exhibition. The Mentor Program is a very big part of an AIEF Scholarship and it is so worthwhile, it gave me a lot in terms of reassurance to know that Janet was always there to help, and that she was more than happy to do that.

The AIEF was great too, they didn’t just dump us once we started school and they haven’t dumped us once we left it either – they were always there and made sure that we knew that if we had any troubles that they’d always listen. The careers sessions that we had were great, I had no clue how to apply for scholarships or colleges or special considerations but Tess was always there checking in and helping. Another great thing that the AIEF gave me was the opportunity to meet kids just like me from all across Australia. I attended all three report launches in my schooling and all of the events they put on for us like mentor activities and university tour days. I made some really close friends at these days, two of whom are down in Melbourne studying with me.

I think it’s important to have this support through high school because you really can’t do it alone, and to be able to know that there’s always someone there to help is so reassuring. There’s already enough stress in high school without the added pressure of not knowing what in the world you’re doing. One thing that pulls me out of bed everyday is knowing that I never have to sit the HSC again.

And the AIEF is still in touch with me today, which is the main reason I’m here. I get messages from Tess checking in and seeing how I am and how university is going. At the start of the year we even had a dinner in Melbourne with all of the AIEF Alumni to catch up, and it was really great to see everyone, considering we’re not all at the same university.

Kincoppal helped me achieve so much, there were so many opportunities and amazing staff at school who always told me that I could do whatever I wanted and helped very step along the way. But easily the biggest thing that I got out of Kincoppal were the relationships I made with the other Indigenous girls, and getting to mentor the younger girls along the way, because I wanted them to feel as welcomed and as supported as I did when I first got there.

If you’d have heard a similar speech I gave at an AIEF event 9 months ago, you would know that my main plan was marine biology and politics in Townsville at James Cook University, I was very set on it. You would also know that I am the most indecisive person ever, so I ended I up in Melbourne. I ended up getting JCU but I deferred for a year because I really wanted to try out Melbourne, I’d only ever been there once, for 10 hours for the uni open day, and I think it’s probably where I’ll stay. I’m doing a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melboune and I honestly love it so much down there, I love the city and the Indigenous Support Unit at the uni, and I love college. College was especially good because I knew no one going down to Melbourne so if I didn’t go to college I’d probably just be a hermit and adopt 17 cats. And it keeps me busy, one of the hardest things I think a young Aboriginal person can do it move to a new town, because so many of us come from really tight-knit communities.

So I’m halfway through first year and don’t have much idea as to what I want to do when I’m finished with uni, but something along the lines of politics and international relations would be great. I’ve also thought about going into Indigenous affairs because I think that it’s really important to see Indigenous people helping their own. For me, I definitely think having Indigenous people as mentors and role models to show young people that they can achieve and reach excellence is really effective. I don’t have an ultimate career goal but my life one would be to be the best role model I can be for my little brother and sisters, and to maybe help make a world that I would want them to live in and that they would flourish in. I’m also currently doing paid work placement at the gold and copper mines just outside of Parkes, in rural NSW, which is a great learning experience though I’m not so keen on the 5am starts and I don’t think hi vis orange is quite my colour!

NAIDOC Week is a really important week in my family, we celebrate it every year and this year’s theme is definitely one that I believe resonates with my own family as I’m sure it does a lot of other families across Australia. We grew up listening to music all the time, my uncles would sit by the fire out the back and sing songs and play the guitar. My uncle Johnno, actually has his own dream time songs that he sings to us, and some of my fondest childhood memories are at home by the fire with all my cousins, listening to those songs.

All in all, I like to just extend my thanks to the AIEF and everyone who came along today to make this a success.

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Improving access to quality education for Indigenous children is the essential first step towards Closing the Gap, and AIEF is doing just that, while also providing a platform for the students of today to become the Indigenous leaders of tomorrow.

Nova Peris OAM
first Indigenous woman elected to Australian Parliament

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The AIEF Scholarship Program and the AIEF Pathways Program are supported by the Australian Government in collaboration with individual, philanthropic and corporate supporters from the private sector.