Granted a de­gree of jus­tice

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Scholarships - Bren­dan O’Keefe

MATTHEW James failed maths and English at school in years eight and nine. While in Year 10, aged 14, he was kicked out of home, and dropped out of school.

He drifted from place to place and picked up labour­ing work. In his last labour­ing job, he would set con­crete in moulds.

‘‘ It was the same thing ev­ery day . . . clean moulds and then get them ready for pour­ing. You could train a mon­key to do it,’’ he says.

‘‘ One day, I was sit­ting there think­ing: ‘ Do I want to be still do­ing this when I’m 50?’’’ The an­swer was no. Now, thanks to Grif­fith Univer­sity’s in­dige­nous- en­try pro­gram, the 30- year- old is un­der­tak­ing a com­bined de­gree in law and arts ( crim­i­nol­ogy and crim­i­nal jus­tice).

But equal thanks go to the Mary MacKil­lop Foun­da­tion, whose Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der ter­tiary schol­ar­ship is pay­ing James’s liv­ing ex­penses ($ 1500 a month) and tu­ition fees.

He es­ti­mates the schol­ar­ship will save him from a debt of about $ 50,000 to $ 60,000.

Straight from the work­site to univer­sity, James says he has sur­prised him­self with how well he is study­ing.

‘‘ If I never had a go I would never have known,’’ he says.

‘‘ I started with crim­i­nol­ogy and did OK and I had al­ways been in­ter­ested in law, not that I thought I would ever do it.

‘‘ I thought ‘ If I can han­dle arts, then I’ll have a go at law.’ ’’

The sin­gle fa­ther is also a par­tic­i­pant in the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment’s Na­tional In­dige­nous Cadet­ship Project, un­der which he works at Bris­bane law firm Gadens dur­ing univer­sity hol­i­days.

He is also sec­re­tary of the In­dige­nous Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion of Queens­land, which will lobby busi­ness to spon­sor more schol­ar­ships.

The Mary MacKil­lop Foun­da­tion was launched in 1997. In 1998, it joined the Bill and Pa­tri­cia Ritchie Foun­da­tion to of­fer schol­ar­ships. The part­ner­ship has do­nated al­most $ 1 mil­lion to­wards 27 in­dige­nous schol­ar­ships in law, medicine, busi­ness, ed­u­ca­tion, nurs­ing, arts and science.

At the Univer­sity of New­cas­tle, a per­pet­ual Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der Schol­ar­ship Fund has been set up to sup­port stu­dents through to grad­u­a­tion.

Co- or­di­na­tor John May­nard, head of the univer­sity’s Wol­lo­tuka School of Abo­rig­i­nal Stud­ies, says the univer­sity will pro­vide $ 50,000 per year and will match any ex­ter­nal con­tri­bu­tion up to $ 50,000 per year.

The schol­ar­ship is de­signed to at­tract in­dige­nous stu­dents and keep them at univer­sity un­til they fin­ish their stud­ies.

Poverty of­ten forces in­dige­nous stu­dents to find work and quit their stud­ies be­fore grad­u­a­tion, May­nard says.

Across the coun­try, there are plenty of in­dige­nous schol­ar­ships: the Univer­sity of Queens­land of­fers about 20, rang­ing from $ 400 to $ 20,000; the Deakin Pratt foun­da­tion bur­sary sup­ports stu­dents for the last eight credit points of their course; Monash Univer­sity of­fers schol­ar­ships in IT and ed­u­ca­tion; the Univer­sity of Melbourne of­fers un­der­grad­u­ate schol­ar­ships in law, ed­u­ca­tion and oth­ers, as well as hous­ing bur­saries and book vouch­ers; and the Univer­sity of South Aus­tralia of­fers 18 un­der­grad­u­ate and four post­grad­u­ate schol­ar­ships.

THE Mary MacKil­lop Foun­da­tion needs more fi­nan­cial part­ners: the cost to ed­u­cate a doc­tor is about $ 10,000 a year for four years, and a teacher about $ 7000 for three or four years.

Break­ing the mould: Grif­fith Univer­sity schol­ar­ship stu­dent Matthew James with his 19- month- old daugh­ter Ge­or­gia

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