Granted a degree of justice
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