In­dige­nous fund breaks bar­ri­ers

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - SASCHA O’SUL­LI­VAN

Af­ter be­com­ing the first in­dige­nous head pre­fect at one of Syd­ney’s lead­ing schools, Onyi Nwa­madi is set­ting her sights on the world.

The Pym­ble Ladies Col­lege Year 12 stu­dent is aim­ing to study at uni­ver­sity in the US when she leaves at the end of next year and one day hopes to work for the UN.

Onyi ap­plied for a schol­ar­ship through the Aus­tralian In­dige­nous Ed­u­ca­tion Fund when she was in Year 4. Two years later, she re­ceived a phone call invit­ing her for an in­ter­view for a place as a boarder, walked into the tree­lined gates on her first day of Year 7, and hasn’t looked back.

“It was like out of a movie,” the 17-year-old stu­dent said of her first day at the pres­ti­gious north­ern Syd­ney school.

Tony Ab­bott, the for­mer prime min­is­ter who was ap­pointed a spe­cial en­voy for in­dige­nous af­fairs, this week urged the gov­ern­ment to boost fund­ing for the AIEF, prais­ing the fact that it was “cre­at­ing an in­dige­nous mid­dle class”.

“This is of price­less ben­e­fit to our coun­try and Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in the medium and long term,” Mr Ab­bott said of the schol­ar­ship that has helped more than 500 stu­dents study at top Aus­tralian schools.

On Thurs­day in par­lia­ment, Mr Ab­bott out­lined an agenda to boost in­dige­nous ed­u­ca­tion, in­clud­ing en­hanc­ing the qual­ity of re­mote schools, waiv­ing HECS debts for teach­ers who stayed at re­mote schools for at least four years, and boost­ing at­ten­dance of in­dige­nous school­child­ren.

Onyi has taken ad­van­tage of every op­por­tu­nity Pym­ble Ladies Col­lege has to of­fer — row­ing, bas­ket­ball, rugby and the school’s pro­duc­tion of Alice in Won­der­land — and she still wants to do more. The young woman, whose mother is from Mer Is­land in the Tor­res Strait, grew up in Syd­ney’s in­ner­west. She said her time at the school has not come without chal­lenges.

“Some­times it was a bit chal­leng­ing (to be an in­dige­nous schol­ar­ship stu­dent), there are some mis­con­cep­tions — we have dif­fer­ent cul­tural ways of liv­ing,” Onyi said. But the star stu­dent has taken it in her stride, and saw it as an op­por­tu­nity to rec­on­cile the dif­fer­ences be­tween her class­mates and teach them more about her­self and in­dige­nous cul­ture.

Onyi is not daunted by the prospect of the HSC — for her it is a step­ping stone to in­ter­na­tional ter­tiary stud­ies. “I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in hu­man rights law, and would love to work for the UN,” she said. “I knew from when I was a lit­tle girl that when I thought about my fu­ture it would al­ways be some­where over­seas.”

JOHN FEDER

Onyi Nwa­madi is the first in­dige­nous head girl at Pym­ble Ladies Col­lege in north­ern Syd­ney

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