Ashleigh Mills is loving life at the University of Sydney, where she is studying a double major in animal welfare and criminology, but the Gunnedah Girls Academy graduate has some lessons of her own to share.
After six years of schooling at Gunnedah High, I graduated with the aspiration to continue my studies and develop my cultural connections wherever I went.
I remember facing the challenge of my cultural identity for so many years whilst at school. So many of my peers would question my Aboriginality because my skin wasn’t the colour they thought it should be.
But when you’re faced with these challenges, I find it’s the perspective you look through that will help overcome them. In the end, these spiteful remarks would only motivate me more to learn about my cultural heritage, my mob and my community.
And it’s that same motivation that pushes me to write this small story today, in the hope that it comes back and reaches some of you.
It is a reminder that no matter where you go and who you are, you’ll always be faced with these challenges — the trick is to use these setbacks as incentive and power to drive you further and prove people wrong.
These challenges and setbacks have led me to where I am today, which is at the University of Sydney studying my degree and living at the women’s college on campus.
I have a part-time job through an amazing Indigenous non-profit organisation called CareerTackers and I am blessed to be a part of the Indigenous pastoral support team at the university.
There are so many Indigenous scholarships to support us with accommodation, everyday living and, of course, university costs. These scholarships can range anywhere from $1000 to $70,000, which inevitably help close the equity disadvantage gaps we face already just for being young Indigenous kids from a low socio-economic community.
These are the type of opportunities that I want my mob back home to be aware about. You become surrounded by other Indigenous students who are also hours away from home.
This not only reminds you that you’re not alone but also that although the biggest steps are the most feared they are also the most rewarding.
I began to get involved in Girls Academy in Year 11. This included regular check-ins, a place to study, have a feed, spin a yarn or just some down time when I was feeling a bit down. I felt Girls Academy was of best use when I was finishing Year 12.
The staff (Blanche, Kylie, Sommar) were constantly looking into tertiary options for me, setting up connections within Sydney for support and even managing a quick trip to the Gold Coast for a few days of relaxation.
I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the help of Sommar. She knew my family growing up and had more of an idea about my Indigenous heritage than I did, so she really helped establish my cultural identity. She got me involved within the Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu program here at the university and this is when I really saw myself coming to Sydney and getting that tertiary education.
I hope to encourage some of you to start looking into these and pursuing your dream.
Girls Academy is such an integral part of ensuring all of us young Indigenous women have an inclusive place to share our culture, get involved with sporting opportunities, develop our connections and get a helping hand with school work, job applications, TAFE or university possibilities.
Most importantly, it is a safe place to talk out any frustrations affecting our lives.