Tyrina Garstone is at the airport when we catch up with her. It’s the summer break but the Melbourne University student is only just heading home to Broome because she wanted to attend an Indigenous study camp.
It seems Tyrina can’t get enough of learning. It’s a vastly different future from what she envisaged before joining Broome Girls Academy in Year 11.
“That’s when they pushed me to do uni, to do ATAR,” Tyrina recalled. “I had thought about it, but the Girls Academy really encouraged me.”
Tyrina said the opportunities she was offered at Girls Academy also influenced her decision to study in Melbourne. “I went on the Melbourne leadership camp. It was just about exploring Melbourne and the city, which is why I started to like it and why I kind of preferenced it over Perth,” she said.
Tyrina, who has just completed her first year of science at Melbourne University, majoring in environment science, is one of two girls from Broome Girls Academy awarded Nestlé scholarships in 2019 to help with further education.
“(Girls Academy) told me about the scholarship and helped me apply, even just signing forms I needed for my uni application,” she said.
Rossica Bin Omar, who has completed her first year studying psychology at the University of Western Australia, is similarly grateful for the encouragement of Broome Girls Academy staff, who supported her throughout high school.
“They were a friendly face, always helping me, all those who tutored us,” she said. “Even though some of them didn’t know exactly what it was I was doing, they would always go out and seek help from another teacher and come back to me.”
Rossica felt instantly at home at university. “When I first came to Perth and, as soon as I started studying, I kind of felt like this is what I am supposed to be doing,” she said. “I didn’t feel homesick or anything because I like change and I was enjoying what I was doing.”
Indeed, Rossica is enjoying it so much she has added a criminology major to her workload. “I’m obviously interested in human behaviour but I also wanted to look at it in a specific kind of way and criminology just looks really interesting.”
Both Tyrina and Rossica are boarding at university colleges, where they have quickly embraced the support offered through the Indigenous community, as well as broader university life.
“I’m at Trinity College, and it takes a lot of my time actually, just being involved in that community, because of all the events, people you meet. Sometimes it feels like I’m a full-time college student,” Tyrina said, with a laugh. “I’m also in the Indigenous social team at Melbourne Uni. And I did Indigenous Nationals last year … volleyball, netball, touch footy and basketball.”
Rossica has embraced the School of Indigenous Studies (SYS) space at UWA, as well as being instrumental in introducing an “indig group” at Thomas Moore College. “We have a lot of spaces where we can learn, it’s really nice.”
While both Rossica and Tyrina are clearly loving university, they said they could not have done as well without the $10,000 Nestlé scholarships they were awarded during their final year of high school.
“It’s been great, I used it for the flights to get over to Melbourne, so I really needed it,” Tyrina said.
“I’ve been mostly using it on lots of transport. Honestly, it’s just been the comfort — I don’t need to worry too much about my financial situation, I can concentrate on my study. And I know from being surrounded by a lot of people at uni that it’s not always the case, so I was pretty lucky.”
Rossica said she came to Perth without any technology and the Nestlé scholarship enabled her to get a laptop, among other things. “I literally use it every day for everything I do, especially with study,” she said. “I couldn’t have gotten that without the scholarship. It made me feel more safe … I could focus on study instead of the money side of things.”
While they are both a long way from home, the girls say they feel as supported as they did in the Girls Academy, which they attribute to building their confidence and resilience.
“My favourite part of the Academy was seeing the younger Indigenous girls come up through the program,” Tyrina said. “I loved spending time with them.”
They are thrilled to think their efforts might inspire other Girls Academy students to aim high, too. “A lot of the younger girls talked about me, which I found out later from my little sister, who is there now,” Rossica said. “She’s saying ‘oh, they think you’re really cool, they want to be like you’, and I was like ‘oh, I didn’t know that’.”
Despite adding criminology to her degree, Rossica is still leaning toward psychology, with plans to work as a counsellor, but is open to where the opportunities take her.
Tyrina, whose long-term goal is to complete her Masters and go back to work with “mob”, said she hoped girls are inspired in the Academies for years to come. “If we can do it for them, they can then do it for other girls, and can just keep on going.”