Kirra Kynuna: My name’s Kirra Kynuna, I studied a Bachelor of Social Work and I graduated two years ago and I’m currently an Australian Public Servant.

Lerissa Kynuna: My name is Lerissa Kynuna, I’m currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Laws at James Cook University and I’m the Community Justice Group Coordinator here in Yarrabah at the moment.

Kirra Kynuna: Well I wanted to go to university I guess, from what mum and dad would always say to us you know like, ‘Education’s the key’.  You know I saw my mum and dad struggle, you know there were hard times like where mum and dad didn’t work and things were difficult for them.  So I guess my sort of motivation to want to go to uni I guess was for myself and for my family, so I could get a good job, so I could, you know when mum and dad are old, I’ll be able to support them  because you know they did such a good job at looking after us.  And I guess, I did social work because of the community as well, like the things that we experience here, so I sort of want to give back as well to my family, to my community and that’s what sort of motivated me to want to go to university.

Lerissa Kynuna: Family was the biggest influence in wanting to go to university. I mean there were twelve long years, two car rides a day with dad saying, “You gotta go to uni you know. That’s what you’ve gotta do, go to school every day, learn you know”, and he’d sit down at night and help us do our homework, make sure that we were doing all the things that we were supposed to do to have a successful education.  Another influence was yeah just what was happening in the community here.  What I had witnessed and there was a lot of injustice in the law and I mean there’s not a lot of Indigenous advocacy or you know, there hasn’t been a lot of change in that area and I mean I love it, there’s a general passion there for it.

Kirra Kynuna: So the process I took to enrol in uni was through high school.  So I enrolled when I was in year twelve.  So the school that I was going to at the time they supported me in enrolling in university.

Larissa Kynuna: I did the same thing.  So I did my QTAC application in year twelve.  I got references from my teachers and stuff to apply for scholarships and to assist my university application.

Kirra Kynuna: The biggest challenge for me was travelling from here to university.  So it’s an hour and half drive from Yarrabah to James Cook University in Smithfield.  So that was a big challenge, so the fact that I would come home and only get a few hours sleep because I would be up studying, doing assignments and things, so that was a big challenge.  I guess I was just really determined to finish my degree.  I used to just spin myself really well, so I would go to university on the weekends and I would go and study at the library, so that’s sort of how I overcame that barrier of you know having to travel the hour and a half.  I guess that was probably the biggest one for me.

Lerissa Kynuna: Well I did my first year at Griffith University in Brisbane.  Moving away was no trouble because boarding school obviously got us into that habit, being away from family.  So came back to Yarrabah and I had two children and I mean that has been really challenging but definitely worth it.  I mean my children now aspire to want to go to university and be educated and I am so thankful that they can have the wonderful influence from like my sister and my parents as well.  So even though that’s been challenging, I’ve still been able to be successful in my studies.

Besides the support of family, I’ve had scholarships for the duration of my studies.  So I’ve had Commonwealth Indigenous specific scholarships.  One that I’ve had in the more recent years is through Cape York Institute, as a part of their leadership program there.  They’ve been really supportive right through my studies.  I mean they put my case forward when I had that accident and were able to support me through that and back into study.

My third year of uni, so the second last year, boxing day, I had a car accident.  I had multiple injuries, I was in hospital for three months, I couldn’t walk.  I went back to uni in a wheelchair, I just wanted to be back, I wanted that normality in my life and that’s where I was, going back to doing what I was doing.  I tried to take on a full time load but I was crazy, so I had to drop down to part time but I still had that support there from CYI and my family, so I’m really grateful for that.  After it, they’ve just been really, really helpful.  They’ve built you know leadership skills, you know helped me to build on those and helped me to attend different conferences and stuff like that.  So yeah I’m really grateful for them being there and their support.

University is one of the greatest opportunities that has ever been available to Indigenous people and I mean if we want to move forward that’s where the key is then.  If we’re going to start somewhere, start changing our communities, changing the way we live, it’s with education.

Kirra Kynuna: Yeah, so the only way for us to move forward as Indigenous people, families, communities – is education.  You know go to university, get a tertiary education, that’s where we’re going to move forward and move our communities forward.

Lerissa Kynuna: That’s where our strengths are, I mean if we want stronger families, stronger communities, that’s where it all lies – in education.  How we think and what we do with our daily lives yeah.

Kirra and Lerissa's Interview

Kirra and Lerissa

Location: Yarrabah

Kirra and Lerissa are sisters from Yarrabah, QLD. Kirra is an Australian public servant with a Bachelor degree in social work and Lerissa is currently studying a Bachelor of Law. The sisters cite their parents and community as major influencers in pursuing higher education. While both girls had to overcome the challenge of travelling to study, the sacrifice has been worthwhile. Especially for Lerissa, who has overcome a car accident to continue her studies with support from her university and the Cape York Institute.