Embarking on a world-class university education can be a cultural challenge for Indigenous students who may have to move hundreds or thousands of kilometres from home.
For Juliette Levinge, the comfort of being on country is only as far away as Jellurgal (Burleigh Heads).
The latest recipient of a Bond University Indigenous Medical Scholarship loves spending time at the Gold Coast landmark which connects her to her ancestors, the Kombumerri people, who have inhabited the region for thousands of years.
“I definitely love connecting with nature, particularly the saltwater, and I think that comes from my Indigenous side,” Juliette says.
“I love going to the beach and going for walks around Jellurgal.”
Juliette’s Kombumerri heritage comes through her father Chris as a descendant of Jenny Graham, a Gold Coast elder born in the mid-1800s.
Juliette says she feels privileged and proud to connect with her culture and share knowledge as a Traditional Custodian of the land and waters within the Yugambeh language region.
“I’ve had so many opportunities that a lot of other Indigenous youth probably wouldn't have been able to experience,” she says.
“I was part of the Yugambeh Youth Choir that performed at the Commonwealth Games Closing Ceremony and have also performed at some of the NRL All Stars games.
“It is sad that there have been many languages lost since first contact which has also meant a loss of culture and identity.
“Because we have had many strong elders help to piece our language back together, it’s been amazing for me to keep learning language and reviving language as well.”
Juliette comes to Bond from the elite Queensland Academies Health Sciences Campus at Southport where she completed an International Baccalaureate.
Her decision to study medicine was sealed during an Academies study tour to Darwin, Katherine and Kununurra in 2019.
“We spoke to a doctor who said a lot of Indigenous people don't feel comfortable talking to doctors who are non-Indigenous,” Juliette says.
“That made me feel quite sad because these people need help but they don't want to go and seek that help.
“It helped me realise why I wanted to do medicine, so that in the future I can go out to rural communities and help people feel that they're in a culturally safe place and get the help they need.
“I want to reduce the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.”
Juliette says she has settled into campus life at Bond and the accelerated learning program.
“I love it here,” she says. “It’s such a supportive network and there's always help around the corner.
“I knew Bond had relatively small numbers of students in the Medical program so I started biomedical science elsewhere and it just didn't feel right for me being in a much larger cohort.
“The best thing about Bond is that it's so personalised and the people here are fantastically friendly, it doesn’t matter what year level.”
Juliette can also count on the support of the University’s Nyombil Centre for Indigenous students, and her family.
Her sister Chloe is in her final year of a Biomedical Science degree and her cousin Myora Stone was one of the first two Indigenous graduates from Bond’s medical program.
Juliette says Indigenous students still face prejudices, even those with stellar academic records such as herself.
“Pretty much my whole life, because of my lighter skin colour people have asked me, ‘What per cent are you? Are you even Indigenous’?” she says.
“That was quite disheartening, and it’s been happening all throughout school and life in general.”
But Juliette is finding a voice to speak up for herself and her Aboriginality.
“For a long time, I found it challenging to tell people I was Aboriginal. I didn't want to try to explain that Aboriginality is not about skin colour.
“But now, I get the strength from my elders, and I see it's more of an educational opportunity for me to teach them about my culture.
“Talking with the elders helps. They say just be true to yourself and your culture.”
Juliette’s scholarship is supported by the Optical Superstore, and she met Co-Founder and Director Margaret Douglas at a National Reconciliation Week function on campus recently.
“She was lovely,” Juliette says. “She gave me her phone number, her email and offered to help in anyway she can.
“Having her as another part of my support network is fantastic.”