Aboriginal students from seven primary schools in Armidale, Guyra and Uralla got a glimpse of what could await them after completing school when they visited the University of New England earlier this month.
The 120 students, all in Years 4, 5 or 6, were participating in a UNE initiative called “UNE 4 ME” aimed at enhancing interaction between the University and the Aboriginal community.
Rob Waters, UNE’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Officer, told the students that they would one day be Elders and leaders of their community. “You’ve got to keep that in the back of your mind”, Mr Waters said, while emphasising the importance of education. “Once you finish school, anything is possible,” he said – including university studies.
The television and film actor Luke Carroll (pictured here), who visited UNE as guest presenter on the day, also urged the students to “get through the 12 years” of their schooling. Although he was already working as an actor by the age of 12, he said, his mother had insisted that he finish high school, enabling him to gain his Higher School Certificate in 1996. “I’m very glad about that now,” he told the students. “Without education I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now.”
The subject of several nominations for acting awards – including AFI awards for his roles in the film Australian Rules and the television series RAN, Luke Carroll is also a presenter on the children’s television program Play School and an inspirational speaker at schools around the country. “I love kids,” he said. “I started acting as a kid, and am glad to be able to give something back to the youth of Australia.”
The visiting students also heard from some of UNE’s Aboriginal staff members – including Debra Bennell, the Director of the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, and Lorina Barker, a lecturer in history. They visited the Oorala Centre, where they had lunch, and then engaged in indoor and outdoor sports at SportUNE with the help of two of SportUNE’s Aboriginal trainees.
Mr Waters, who organised the “UNE 4 ME” event, said the day had been “a great opportunity for the young students to come in and see – first-hand – the wonderful work that Aboriginal people are doing here at UNE”. “It was a face-to-face role-modelling experience that we hope proves to them that anything is possible,” he said.