Mountains by Stephanie Williams

A student’s journey at Worawa College.

Good Morning everyone, honoured guests, Elders, ladies and gentlemen.

I’d first like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to the Wurundjeri people.

My name is Stephanie Juanita Mabadoor Williams I am a proud, passionate young lady seen as a leader in my community I believe in loving God and having respect for others and for my culture. I also believe in education as it’s the key to open the doors I want to go through.

My tribes are Gulumoerrgin and Muran, and my languages are Larrakia and Llwaidja. I am from Darwin and West Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

I have been attending Worawa College for four years now since I was twelve.

During my time at Worawa I’ve had many blessings and opportunities as well as making my friends forever – my sisters.

In my first year at Worawa, I wasn’t sure what I would make of my time at the college or even if it was right for me. I was eleven turning twelve. Can you imagine leaving home at a young age!

I was nervous, although I was keen too. It was a new adventure on the other side of the country!

I had to see what this adventure would bring, but I was so scared because for the first time this adventure was on my own.

I remember looking out to the beautiful big Mountains and feeling so small. I went behind a building and sat on a stump and asked myself “Is this right?” I looked in the mountains where I was sitting and I saw a ditch in the mountain. I imagined it’s like I’m about to take a huge big leap over that ditch.

Now it came to me that to take this leap is risky – what if I fall?

I’m leaving everything I know, I’m leaving home.

I said, “God show me if it’s right.” I looked closely at the mountain, my eyes began to adjust, my vision became clear – the ditch in the mountain was no longer a ditch but a road.

I had seen a car travelling up the mountain. I thought well it looks like I better see where this road, this new path, takes me to.

This path has taken me to amazing places. In my first year, I had been selected with other students to attend the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education in Hawaii. I was able to meet First Nation People from around the world. There were so many things that were great about the trip: the singing and dancing, the beaches and the culture.

I have been on student exchanges and attended many conferences and performed or spoken.

I had the opportunity to make my Debut at last year’s Debutante Dreaming. We were able to socialize with a new group of friends that we would never have usually met and learned dances.

We stood and were proud of our Cultures and achievements. I’ve acted in school plays such as at the Malthouse Theatre. Worawa allowed me to explore my talents such as sport: I play netball, basketball, football, touch rugby. I have a lot of interest in AFL. I was able to be a part of the first Worawa Lady Eaglehawks AFL team and have been able to enjoy other experiences through Worawa in the broader community. I have been the Victorian Indigenous captain for two consecutive years.

I learnt a lot about myself and my character at Worawa. I have learnt about good leadership and listening skills, and to work as one in our community. I was the captain of the school. I am extremely passionate and push myself to all my abilities in my sporting life as well as at school.

I’m an MVP winner in the whole competition in the national Indigenous Kick-Start AFL. I have proudly been in Australia’s first 2017 indigenous and multicultural all-stars team at a national level and now two years in the Woomeras team. I have represented the Northern Territory in the u18s NAB cup and have recently played for the Yarra Ranges Vline Rep team in Gippsland.

I always thank God for all these achievements. I’d like to get drafted one day in the women’s AFL.

As well as sport, my future dreams and aspirations are to complete my schooling in year 12 and further my education at university and study exercise science and health, because with these I could make a good change in my community and be the bridge that can help my people improve health and better it for future generations as well as knowing the language, both indigenous and English to help translate for my old people and possibly become a teacher.

This year at Worawa I was able to learn about sports medicine and get a certificate and also enjoy work experience at Badger Creek Primary School, doing work like teachers’ aide and experiencing life as a teacher as well as the experience of coaching young primary kids in athletics and getting certified as a children’s coach.

Back to when I first started off at Worawa: I wasn’t sure – I felt small around these mountains, the country was different to what I’m used to. I’m a saltwater girl and there was no sea around but now I’m sure, I’m certain, and I feel as though I can conquer all mountains and life’s hurdles.

The message I’d like to send to the younger girls and students is never to be afraid to take a jump of faith into the unknown; always have love; be courageous. If you make a mistake remember my sisters, pick yourself up and try to find your path! Never let your struggles define you or let any negativity around shape you or mistakes break you – be leaders for our indigenous youth. You are all arangkarud arradbi – strong Aboriginal people; strong in the mind, spirit and most of all strong in the heart.

Be leaders for Our People and climb every mountain because difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations such as this.

– Mountains, by Student Representative Speaker, Stephanie Williams. 2017.

From Model to Role Model

Among the notable Australians pausing to reflect on the 50th anniversary of the historic 1967 Aboriginal referendum will be the one-time model, turned pillar of Indigenous education, Lois Peeler.

By Luke Waters. This is a story about Lois Peeler on inspiring the next generation of Indigenous Australians – SBS.

Read the full story on SBS.




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Hyllus Maris – A Visionary With A Passion For Education

Hyllus Maris Memorial Lecture

Learn more about this event here at 50 Years Latrobe.

Hyllus Maris (1934-1986) was many things: activist, artist, cultural leader and philosopher. Above all, she was a visionary, who used her many talents to stand up for what she believed in. Her success in establishing Victoria’s first and only Aboriginal school challenged the education status quo and has been unlocking young people’s potential ever since.

Born on Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve in 1934, Hyllus was the third of nine children. Her mother, Geraldine Briggs, née Clements, was a Yorta Yorta and Wiradjuri woman and her father, Selwyn Briggs, a Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta man. Hyllus and her siblings inherited a profound sense of social justice from their parents, both of whom were prominent Aboriginal rights activists.

Hyllus lived at Cummeragunja until she was five years old. In 1939, her family were among 200 people to walk off the reserve in protest over its management. Afterwards they lived on the outskirts of Mooroopna, in a makeshift settlement known as the Flats. Its residents were excluded and stigmatised by mainstream society because of their Aboriginality. In later years, Hyllus often drew on her experience growing up as an outsider.

Much of Hyllus’ knowledge about her cultural heritage, genealogy and history came through her mother and from her grandmother, Theresa Clements – traditional name Yarmuk. Her grandmother instilled in Hyllus great pride in her Aboriginal heritage. Hyllus attended school in Mooroopna and then Shepparton. Many who grew up on the Flats remember Hyllus as their protector, a compassionate girl unafraid to confront the perpetrators of discrimination.

From a young age, Hyllus was an artistic soul and a talented musician. She played guitar and sang at local venues in and around Shepparton. Hyllus trained and worked as a hospital dietician. In 1956, she married a Malaysian geologist and adopted the surname Maris. She took a keen interest in Aboriginal affairs and supported her parents’ fight against inequality, becoming a member of the Aborigines Advancement League and attending meetings of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI).

In 1970, Hyllus relocated to Melbourne, where she became a well-known activist and public speaker. She was a founding member and liaison officer for the National Council of Aboriginal and Islander Women, working alongside her sisters and mother, who was the council’s driving force. Where services for the Aboriginal community had been neglected, the women worked to fill the void.

The various acts of community service Hyllus undertook included visits to incarcerated Aboriginal people, for whom she would organise bail and represent at court hearings. Subsequently, Hyllus helped set up the Aboriginal Legal Service in 1973, as well as the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and similar services in Queensland. Later, Hyllus chaired the Victorian Council for Aboriginal Culture, which organised some of the earliest Aboriginal art exhibitions in the state.

In 1977, Hyllus received a scholarship from the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs to study social policy and community development in London with the prominent sociologist, Sir Richard Hauser. It was the first of a number of study trips abroad that included cultural exchanges with First Nation peoples of North America. During her travels, an idea began to develop in Hyllus’ mind.

Hyllus returned to Australia convinced of the need for a holistic approach to Aboriginal education. She was determined to build a school that would focus on three key areas — education, culture and wellbeing — and established the not-for-profit Green Hills Foundation to raise funds. Intense lobbying by Hyllus and others secured a grant from the Victorian Schools Commission, to purchase land near Diamond Creek. A pilot project was then conducted. Shortly after, the first independent Aboriginal school in Victoria opened its doors.

Worawa Aboriginal College officially opened in 1983. ‘Worawa’ is an Aboriginal word for eagle. The name was agreed upon by the Aboriginal Elders who worked with Hyllus on the cultural content of the college’s program, the eagle being of great significance in Aboriginal culture and a symbol of the tremendous potential Hyllus saw in Aboriginal children. Extensive consultation went into developing a curriculum that balanced Aboriginal culture with the very best of western education.  Initially co-ed, the first students were from families who supported the concept of an all Aboriginal student and who had the confidence to place their children under Hyllus’ care.

Today, Worawa is situated in beautiful grounds outside Healesville. It remains Australia’s only boarding school for Aboriginal girls, catering for the middle years of schooling (years 7–10). Students come from across Australia and collectively speak more than 30 traditional languages. The school continues to develop high achievers and its ongoing success is a proud testament to Hyllus and her vision.

Artistically, Hyllus’ legacy is equally significant. She was a playwright and a gifted poet – her poem, Spiritual Song of the Aborigine, is considered an anthem for her people. Hyllus also collaborated to write and produce a four-part television series Women of the Sun, broadcast on SBS television. It documented the Cummeragunja walk-off and the experiences of Aboriginal women across two hundred years of colonisation.

First broadcast in 1982, Women of the Sun won several awards including the United Nations Media Peace Prize; the main drama award at the Banff Television Festival in Canada; two Australian Writers’ Guild awards and five Television Society of Australia awards. The script was published in 1983, followed by a novel in 1985. Hyllus was appointed as the inaugural chair of the Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee.

Hyllus passed away in 1986 after a battle with cancer. The illness had done little to diminish her commitment to the Aboriginal community and she remained active until the end of her life.

In 1999, an annual memorial lecture was established at La Trobe University in honour of her contribution to Aboriginal education. Today, Maris House at Melbourne Girls’ College sits as a tribute to its namesake. Hyllus was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001.

Aunty Hyllus believed the future to be in the hands of the young. Thanks to her efforts, many Aboriginal children today are growing up with the opportunity to make a difference, just as she did.
Last updated on Monday, 23 December 2013

Copyright – 2014 Dept. of Premier and Cabinet