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Bond University reaches out to remote communities

August 18, 2017

A small group of corporate and educational leaders was recently given a rare opportunity to experience everyday life in some of Australia’s most remote Indigenous communities as part of Bond University’s 2017 Yarning Up project.

“During our five-day visit, the people of Mer and Thursday Islands opened their schools, their homes and, most especially, their hearts to us,” said Yarning Up participant, Tanya Johnson who serves as Suncorp’s Executive Manager of Talent.

“We are currently working on Suncorp’s Reconciliation Action Plan and you can’t do that sitting in an office in Brisbane. Yarning Up gave us the opportunity to spend time in the community and talk one-on-one with people to learn first-hand what it is like to live in a remote community.

“Bond University has helped us to build connections and relationships that will assist us to create employment pathways based on the real needs of Indigenous communities.”

Winner of the 2016 Queensland Premier’s Reconciliation Award, Bond University’s Yarning Up program is now in its fourth year of taking small, high powered delegations to Lockhart River and the Torres Strait Islands in far north Queensland. To date, more than 40 school principals, corporate achievers and Indigenous leaders have undertaken the annual trip, with a number of participants returning a second time.

“Yarning Up started as a dialogue between women, giving principals from some of Australia’s leading girls’ schools an opportunity to speak to the mothers, aunties and grandmothers in remote communities, and learn more about the challenges their children face,” said Yarning Up organiser and Bond University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Pathways and Partnerships, Catherine O’Sullivan.

“This initial education focus achieved some powerful outcomes in terms of new school scholarships being introduced for Indigenous children and new systems designed to ease their transition from remote primary schools to larger mainland boarding campuses.

“Over the past two years, Yarning Up has evolved to encompass a mix of male and female participants with increased involvement from the corporate sector which has extended the focus to the full community-education-employment pathway.

“This, in turn, has broadened the scope of the outcomes – such as the establishment of two locally-owned and run small businesses in Lockhart River supported by ISS Facility Services as a result of last year’s Yarning Up visit.”

The 2017 Yarning Up itinerary included two days on Mer (Murray) Island where delegates spent time with the children in their classrooms at Tagai State College primary campus, visited a local home to help prepare food for that night’s community dinner and a tour of the island, stopping to pay their respects at Eddie ‘Koiki’ Mabo’s grave.

“The Mer community had just commemorated the 25th anniversary of the landmark Mabo Native Title ruling and it was an absolute privilege to stand on the site where it all started,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

“We were extremely fortunate to have as part of our group McCullough Robertson’s Chairman of Partners, Dominic McGann who is a renowned legal authority on native title issues and was able to share his unique insights with the group.”

Travelling to Thursday Island, the Yarning Up experience continued with visits to the local schools and hospital, a showcase for island entrepreneurs and dinner with key community, health and education stakeholders.

“In addition to Suncorp and McCullough Robertson, our group included representatives from Blue Sky Alternative Investments, ISS Facility Services, the Anglican Schools Commission, the Yalari scholarship program, Principal of Ballarat Clarendon College David Shepherd, Sydney barrister Fiona Sinclair, and Bond University’s Executive Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Professor Helen Chenery,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

“They were guided by our team of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander facilitators – musician/artist/advocate Jeremy Donovan, Thursday Island local Mel Nash and Bond’s Indigenous Cultural Support Officer, artist Narelle Urquhart.

“Having such a diverse group of people from a wide variety of corporate, education and health settings brought a dynamic range of perspectives and voices to this year’s Yarning Up experience.

“We had a number of human resources professionals who could see the opportunities for employment pathways; our entrepreneurs and investors identified ways they could help local businesses; our health and education leaders saw the potential for future collaborations.

“Every participant took something different away from their visit and they have all identified different opportunities for continued engagement – whether that be on a professional or personal basis.

“But the one message we all heard loud and clear is that we need to create a framework whereby children from these remote communities can progress from school to tertiary education or training to employment with no gaps.

“Mer Island mother, Melora Noah, told us that some children who finished Year 6 at the end of last year are still waiting to secure a place in Year 7 due to the shortage of accommodation for high school students on Thursday Island. This is how they can so easily fall through the cracks in the system and lose the education momentum.

“We also learnt that we can only help solve these problems by listening to the mothers, fathers and grandparents of the Torres Strait Island communities. They know the issues; they know the solutions. They are simply asking us to help them make it happen.”