A familiar feeling swept over Marnie Jones when she stepped onto the Bond University campus for the first time in 2017.
Suddenly she was 11 years old again, a homesick kid at boarding school, the one pumping coins into a payphone desperate to hear her mother’s voice.
Her first years at school in Tamworth, 400km from home in Lightning Ridge, were tough.
“I was calling my mum all the time, spending all my money on the payphone telling her, ‘You need to come get me because I can't do it’,” said Ms Jones, who studied at Calrossy Anglican School on a Yalari scholarship.
“It was just way too hard not having any family around. But then my sister came to school and that kind of got me through.”
The homesickness hit again when Ms Jones arrived at Bond University on an Indigenous scholarship.
This time though, she knew she could push through it with help from the university’s Nyombil Centre and her sister Zarleigh who would join her at Bond.
Next year she will become the first student to embark on Bond’s new Professional Doctorate of Occupational Therapy.
In the research component of her doctorate, Ms Jones aims to produce a framework for the use of nature therapy specifically for Indigenous children. Nature therapy is a treatment that involves immersing people in natural environments to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being.
“I want to codesign culturally responsive nature therapy resources with elders so that it connects and aligns with Indigenous people's values, knowledges and traditions and can be utilised by allied health and early childhood professionals working with First Nations children,” she said.
Eventually the Gamilaraay and Barkindji woman hopes to return to Lightning Ridge in north-west NSW, bringing much-needed occupational therapy skills to the community.
“I loved growing up in Lightning Ridge because all my family's out there and I was never bored – going to the river, camping, all that stuff,” Ms Jones said.
“Some of my cousins had disabilities and an occupational therapist would visit maybe once a month. There's not enough support out there.
“I want to be that person helping the community.”
Ms Jones credits her parents with instilling in her the importance of education and pursuing opportunities that were not available to them.
“They finished school in Year 10 and my mum got sent away to boarding school but ended up running away on the first day.
“She said to me, `I wish I didn't do that, I wish I stayed’.
“They’ve been so supportive.”
Ms Jones said Bond’s Nyombil Centre, which helps Indigenous students transition into university life and then the workforce, had been a pillar of support throughout her academic journey, offering assistance and fostering a sense of community.
“Nyombil was especially good in my undergrad when I first moved to the Gold Coast. The support was amazing,” she said.
“I built a group of friends and I met my best friend here.”
Ms Jones offered this advice to fellow Indigenous students who often relocate thousands of kilometres from home to attend school and university.
“Do it for yourself, do it for your community, do it for your mob,” she said.
“I think about how proud my family and my community are of me, and I want to change things that are going to directly affect them.”