While this year’s Close the Gap progress report showed Australia is behind in four of the seven key targets needed to reduce inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, there was good news in one area.
There are now more Indigenous Australians than ever finishing high school and undertaking tertiary education than ever before.
At Charles Sturt University alone, the number of Indigenous students rose by more than 250 in just two years between 2014 and 2016.
Fourth year CSU social work student and proud Wiradjuri man Ellerey Harris put this down to the increasing visibility of strong Indigenous role models.
“The difference between now and when I was growing up is there’s a lot more indigenous role models in our communities and on television who have been given a voice,” Mr Harris said.
“A lot of Indigenous families nowadays know someone who goes to uni, but when I was starting out I didn’t have anybody who had done this before.”
My niece wants to finish school and become a nurse, and she now thinks ‘if Uncle Ellerey can do it, then I can finish school, too’.Ellerey Harris
Mr Harris said he knows it’s important for him to go back to his community and be the role model he had to navigate high school and university without.
“I grew up on Murrin Bridge Mission, which is 300 kilometres west of Wagga, so being someone that comes from a mission and has been able to achieve what I have done, I hope I can be an example for my community,” he said.
“My niece wants to finish school and become a nurse, and she now thinks ‘if Uncle Ellerey can do it, then I can finish school, too’.”
Now, Mr Harris is juggling part-time study with his full-time job as a case worker at the Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Jenny Roberts said if Indigenous students can overcome the unique challenges they face in completing a tertiary education, the flow-on effects to Indigenous communities will be outstanding.
“Increasing the education levels in our communities will lead to employment, and the more students who study and graduate also impacts on aspiration in the Indigenous communities,” Ms Roberts said.
“The biggest challenges faced by our students are often around them moving away from home to attend on campus study, and for our online students it is a challenge to juggle family and work commitments with online study.”