So my name’s Todd Phillips, I’m from Grafton in northern New South Wales. I’m a PhD student and also work for the Institute of Indigenous Australia. So I come from a big family, there’s nine of us all up, there’s five sisters, I got three brothers, a big family. I grew up in Grafton on the far north coast of New South Wales. Some of the challenges that I experienced were things around limiting employment and educational pathways, so I had to move to a capital city or outside of Grafton to pursue them things.
I attended Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. I’ve done a Bachelor of Education, a Masters of Education and now currently completing my Doctorate in Education. For me, I went to high school and I didn’t really believe that I could go to university, I thought it was a bit beyond my capability.
I didn’t enrol in uni until I was twenty-five. I did a series of labouring jobs, manual labour, construction and I guess I got to a point where I wanted something more, something a little bit more challenging. The turning point for me is I actually saw my mother enrol and we had no role models that actually went onto university in my family and seeing my mother actually do it, I thought I can give this a go and so I took a chance and enrolled in uni.
I actually just called some of the uni’s in Brisbane, just to the Indigenous units, student support units*. I enrolled through QTAC. Back when I enrolled it was through a book, it wasn’t online and then just called various student support centres at universities to find out how I enrol, what’s the next steps, how I get in, and they were really helpful.
Challenges that I was confronted with at uni were the systemic challenges, the systems of applying, picking electives, all the online portal stuff. I seeked help through the Indigenous student support unit* to put my hand up and say “hey look, I’m not really sure how to access this stuff online”, and they were really great and helpful and broke it down for me, made it manageable.
Some of the other things were the financial challenges around juggling university cost and life cost and living. I worked part-time jobs, also fortunate enough to get a scholarship at uni, which supplemented my income, which is really great.
And then another challenge was the writing you know, writing at a level that was academically appropriate and some of the things that I engaged in was getting tutoring support. Actually put my hand up and say you know what I’m being challenged here and this is not as easy as I thought. That’s kind of a challenge in itself just to put your hand up and say, “Hey, look I need some support”. It was really critical for me in the early stage of my degree because I accessed student support in terms of tutoring and it really got me through the early stage of uni where I found the transition from going to work to studying at university a bit of a challenge. And they were able to break down how to write an assignment again cause I had spent some time out of, after high school away from studying so that was really, really good.
Also things like just being able talk and have some support from Indigenous academic staff, which was really powerful. During my under degree when I did my Bachelor of Education, I got a scholarship called the Paperbark scholarship which provided an allowance for food and accommodation which was really good so that took me over my four years of study.
During my masters I’ve been fortunate enough again to get an APA scholarship, which is a Australian Postgraduate Award scholarship and that’s a tax free salary I guess almost to study and allows students doing postgraduate study to have a salary so they can study fulltime and not have to worry about work, working fulltime. And then as a doctorate student I’ve been fortunate enough to get an APA scholarship again and use that as a salary as well and support myself financially through my postgraduate studies so really, really fortunate and it’s a great initiative.
I think more people should study a Bachelor of Education because we need more Indigenous school teachers. There’s so many schools across the country that are screaming out for Indigenous school teachers, Indigenous support staff. I believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should pursue higher education and take the next step because we need more role models in our community. There also, it’s a way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can access further employment opportunities and if people see aunty or uncle taking that next step and becoming professionals then it creates that sense of belief within our young people in our communities that aunty and uncle did it, I can do it too.
My advice to people thinking about going to uni is just do it. There’s a whole range of opportunities that will present themselves to ya. I see university as really the keys to opening up doors whether employment or further training. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world with uni, also it’s helped me get jobs that I’m really passionate about and it’s – just do it.
*Note: each university may refer to their local Indigenous support services in different ways e.g. Indigenous Education Units; Indigenous Support Units; School of Indigenous Australian Studies; Indigenous Institute etc., and may include Aboriginal and/ or Torres Strait Islander language in the naming title, as relevant to the local area.
Todd is a PhD student from Grafton, NSW. After finishing school he worked a number of labour jobs before enrolling in a Bachelor of Education at the age of 25. He was inspired to find something more challenging and sought help from the university’s Indigenous education unit to help him through the challenging aspects of university life including managing the cost of living, choosing subjects and academic writing.