INSPIRING THE NEXT GEN­ER­A­TION

ON THE EVE OF NAIDOC WEEK, THESE YOUNG IN­DIGE­NOUS ACHIEV­ERS ARE AL­READY MAK­ING THEIR MARK

South Burnett Times - - WEEKEND - WORDS: DENISE RAWARD .......................

Sa­man­tha Har­ris, 27

T here’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween be­ing a model and be­ing a role model, but Sa­man­tha Har­ris has them both cov­ered.

The Tweed girl was cat­a­pulted into the mod­el­ling world at just 13 when she was a fi­nal­ist in Girl­friend mag­a­zine model search com­pe­ti­tion, the launch­ing pad of many Aus­tralian mod­el­ling ca­reers.

By in­dus­try stan­dards she has reached great heights, ap­pear­ing on the cover of

Vogue Aus­tralia at 19 and fa­mously be­ing booked for a record num­ber of shows at Aus­tralian Fash­ion Week in 2010. She has been a brand am­bas­sador for David Jones, Westfield and Price­line.

In a no­to­ri­ously fickle in­dus­try, Sa­man­tha has emerged a gra­cious stayer and, at 27, is us­ing her plat­form to pro­mote her peo­ple, and her char­ity work and to en­cour­age other young women to pur­sue their dreams. This year she was named in Who Mag­a­zine’s an­nual “Women Who” list for her work in inspiring oth­ers.

Sa­man­tha is still be­mused as to how she be­came a role model and men­tor but it’s a man­tle she’s hap­pily taken up.

“I still re­ally don’t know why that hap­pened,” she laughs.

“I thought ‘why me, I’m not that ex­cit­ing’ but then I thought if I could give any­one some pos­i­tive to hold on to, that’s a good thing.”

No doubt many young girls saw some­thing of them­selves in the shy, unique look­ing girl with op shop clothes who put her­self out there in an arena seem­ingly the do­main of pol­ished, blue-eyed blon­des.

“I al­ways wanted to be a model,” Sa­man­tha says. “I liked the idea of it but never in a mil­lion years did I think I would ever be on the cov­ers of mag­a­zines.

“I would have been re­ally happy just be­ing in Tar­get and Kmart cat­a­logues.”

Such earth­i­ness has un­doubt­edly played a part in Sa­man­tha’s suc­cess, par­tic­u­larly at a time when no one in a Tar­get or Kmart cat­a­logue would have looked like her.

Sa­man­tha’s mother Myrna is a Dunghutti woman, from the Kempsey area, a mem­ber of the Stolen Gen­er­a­tions re­moved from her fam­ily as a baby. Sa­man­tha grew up with her mother, fa­ther and three broth­ers in a modest house at Banora Point.

“It was my mum who took me to mod­el­ling com­pe­ti­tions,” Sa­man­tha says. “I was the only girl and it was the thing we did to­gether. “She is still one of my big­gest sup­port­ers.” Sa­man­tha moved to Syd­ney nine years ago to pur­sue a mod­el­ling ca­reer, de­ter­mined to chase her dream de­spite her crip­pling shy­ness and the mar­ket for Abo­rig­i­nal mod­els be­ing de­cid­edly untested.

“When I first came to Syd­ney, I would go to cast­ings, some­time four or five a day and I wouldn’t get any jobs,” she says.

“At a young age, it was hard. You think ‘they don’t like me’ but as I got older, I un­der­stood it was be­cause the client has a vi­sion of what they were af­ter and I just wasn’t the look. And I learned that was OK.”

“SO WHAT I PASS ON TO YOUNG WOMEN ES­PE­CIALLY ... IS THAT IT ISN’T GO­ING TO BE HANDED TO YOU. BUT IF YOU WORK HARD AND PER­SIST, IT WILL PAY OFF.”

She has weath­ered big­ger knocks along the way in­clud­ing vi­cious and racist trolling on so­cial me­dia and the jail­ing of her hus­band for two years over a car ac­ci­dent that re­sulted in the death of an elderly man.

But Sa­man­tha proved her­self to be made of strong stuff. Some­where along the way she lost her shy­ness but it was never re­placed by that icy mod­el­ling ve­neer. She is nat­u­ral and chatty, the quin­tes­sen­tial grounded Aussie girl, who is happy to lend her time to good causes and share what she’s learned with other young peo­ple.

“I tell them it isn’t a walk in the park,” she says. “So what I pass on to young women es­pe­cially, whether they want to be a model, a nurse or any­thing at all, is that it isn’t go­ing to be handed to you.

“But if you work hard and per­sist, it will pay off.”

Sa­man­tha vis­its schools and in­dige­nous groups to spread the word. She reg­u­larly re­ceives mes­sages from young women on so­cial me­dia telling her they are fol­low­ing their dreams be­cause of her and it makes her feel good in­side.

She is an Am­bas­sador for the Bar­na­dos Mother of the Year Awards — “that’s re­ally be­cause of my mum”, she says — and last year took part in the Twin­ings Tea Chal­lenge where she was asked to de­sign tea pack­ag­ing, with a por­tion of sales go­ing to her cho­sen char­ity.

Again she called on her mother and they came up with an Abo­rig­i­nal dot paintin­gin­spired de­sign, de­pict­ing the colours of the sea and sand of the Gold Coast.

Her cho­sen char­ity was an­other she is an Am­bas­sador for, the Make A Wish Foun­da­tion. That part­ner­ship was forged through her meet­ing with a chron­i­cally ill 12-year-old in­dige­nous girl some years ago who’d al­ways been told she looked just like Sa­man­tha Har­ris. One of the girl’s wishes was to meet Sa­man­tha.

“I was con­tacted through a friend so of course I went to meet her,” Sa­man­tha says. “She re­ally was the spit­ting im­age of me. She could have been my lit­tle sis­ter.

“I spent quite a few hours with her and I al­ways kept in con­tact with her. Her fam­ily said it re­ally made her day. She thought I was like An­gelina Jolie or some­thing but re­ally it was my priv­i­lege so I’ve sup­ported the Make A Wish Foun­da­tion ever since.”

And this is no stock story for the me­dia it seems.

“Ac­tu­ally, to­mor­row will be three years since she passed away,” Sa­man­tha adds. “I still think of her.”

Dur­ing NAIDOC Week, she will travel to Can­berra to sit on a panel for the Girls Academy, a govern­ment ini­tia­tive to keep in­dige­nous girls en­gaged at school, through in-school men­tor­ing, well-be­ing sup­port and sports pro­grams.

As for the fu­ture, she sim­ply wants to keep work­ing, a level-headed am­bi­tion in a pro­fes­sion known for its lim­ited life­span.

“Maybe one day have a prod­uct or my own busi­ness,” Sa­man­tha says. “And just con­tinue be­ing a pos­i­tive role model.”

It seems she’s got that last one in the bag.

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