My parents are from the outer islands, so my mum is from Darnley and my dad is from Saint Pauls, but I grew up on T.I. Life here was, I guess, it was fun, growing up on an island, fishing. I sort of kind of grew up around that little island there [points to an island in the background] and my mum worked over that side of the island so we would make little canoes and then go across to that island and spends the days there so as a child, that is what I did but then I grew up and things changed.
I’m a high school dropout, so I left school at, halfway through grade twelve, I didn’t finish grade twelve, for a job and I’ve worked ever since that day but I realised the importance of education, so I’ve been back to uni.
I did a degree in Community Administration, so many years ago in Adelaide, at the task force, then I did nothing, oh I worked, I didn’t consider an education because I thought that degree was it. It kind of, for me it wasn’t good enough, so I wanted more. So I went on to do a postgraduate in Health Promotion through Sydney Uni. Then I went on to do a Masters of Public Health. I enjoyed that very much as well, I just enjoy study and now I’m currently doing my PhD.
So for me to enrol in my first degree, I guess twenty years ago there was a lot of support. You just had to fill in an expression of interest and that was it. They didn’t consider OP scores or anything like that so it was just an expression of interest to get into that degree. It was really easy but that was like twenty odd years ago.
To get back into uni and doing it through Sydney Uni, the enrolment was a little bit harder but again, there was support people around, Indigenous support staff that helped people like us that wanted to get into uni. For me to enrol in my Masters of Public Health, again it was really easy. There was just Indigenous staff, situated in uni’s that were willing to help you but for me to enrol in my PhD was a little bit harder. This time it was like me trying to do it by myself. There’s no Indigenous staff around to support you and say if you’ve forgotten this form, you’ve got to do this, you’ve gotta to that, there was nothing so to actually enrol took a bit longer than the other times I wanted to get into uni.
The first challenge I had, with my first degree, I had two girls. So off to uni and leaving them behind. It was in blocks or residential, it was full time uni, so I had to actually leave them behind. So that was the challenge but I had such a supportive mum who just took care of that. The other challenge I guess was, leaving home and you get down there and you don’t want that life. You want to come back to this, whatever life it was, but I knew that if I wanted to make a difference I actually had to break away, I had to change myself in order to achieve what I wanted to achieve.
I guess another thing is time management so fitting all of my studies in too because I work full time. I have a very full on job that takes me out to the outer islands so how do I study and fit all of that in is another challenge but I kind of, I think I grew up a lot through my uni years and really I study from three to five every morning and then I do other stuff, then I go for my runs or whatever and then I go to work. So my days are really full on.
I know T.I seems to be the place you want to be, you want to be here because of all the fun stuff, the fun things happen here but it’s about you know going to uni, uni is fun, uni is fun too. It’s about setting yourself up, getting yourself an education and a career and then you’ve only got to do uni for about three years to get a degree, depending on what you’re doing, three years is not a long time. Nineteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, you’ve got a degree before you’re twenty one, you’re set for life. So I would encourage anybody, all the young ones to really think about going to uni. But I tell everybody that uni’s the best years of their lives. I feel sorry for the ones now that I’ve said that to, cause then they go to uni and I say ‘what do you do?’, ‘oh it’s great, we like partying’, but that’s not what I meant!
Location: Thursday Island
Occupation: Public Health
Ella is a health and wellbeing manager from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, QLD. Growing up on the T.I. Ella dropped out of high school midway through grade 12 to start working full time. She later realised the importance of higher education and has since gone back to uni to complete a Bachelor of Community Administration, Masters of Public Heath and is now working towards her PhD. Studying full time and looking after daughters was a real challenge but Ella sought the support of her family and Indigenous Education Unit in order to reach her goals.