With NAIDOC week upon us, three of Griffith’s most prominent indigenous students share their personal stories.
Griffith PhD candidate Arabella Douglas’ research explores how behaviourial economics and social impact investing (SII) can improve investment decision making with greatest social impact on Aboriginal wellbeing.
A member of the Yugambeh Nation from the Gold Coast, Arabella credits her extensive education opportunities to her ancestors and the incredible women in her veins.
“I was extremely lucky in that my great grandmother – Jane Currie’s family were all churchgoers and very entwined with community missionaries who allowed the local Indigenous people to balance their culture and values with their own Christian ones,” says Arabella.
“Jane was one of eight children and was my role model. Despite the hardships of the time – no shoes on at times to even wear to church and not having been formally taught any English – she managed to teach herself to read by reading the Bible. This was an extraordinary thing and she even went on to contribute to a newsletter for the missionaries called Abo Call where she provided snippets of Aboriginal news to the community.
“Jane strategically assisted the missionaries who allowed her children support for ongoing education, and this is a real inspiration to me. The land that Griffith sits on was gifted to the university from the Traditional Owners, the Kominberri Yugembeh People and it so profound for me to think that now I am about to graduate from a university on which my people are shared sovereign owners.
“I have had so many opportunities provided to me as a result of my ancestors and especially my incredible great-grandmother who managed in a time of conflict and change.
“It is my generation’s job now, to continue this tradition of educating ourselves for the future greater good and culture, never taking for granted those who did more and to whom we owe a great deal.”
Gina Masterton is focussed on law reform, with the emphasis of the Law PhD student’s work on international parental child kidnapping and the Hague Convention on Child Abduction 1980.
With the subject being close to home following her sister’s experience with domestic violence and a legal system which forced her young nephew to be returned to his father overseas, Gina says her determination to bring about change is inspired by her two grandmothers, both of whom came from difficult beginnings.
“My father’s mother was a part of the stolen generation, forced into servitude at the age of around 11 or 12 from where she was living, in a mission in Cherbourg, Queensland. After that I believe she had a child around the age of 14, my dad’s older half sister.
“My maternal grandmother did not have any formal skills but all those who knew her say she was a beautiful soul who was always presented very well. She never spoke about her early life though, I think it was too painful.
“Mum’s mum was from a well-known Brisbane community of indigenous people called Gubbi Gubbi, and although she had little in the way of a formal education and was almost certainly abused, she did work hard for a living in a series of strong jobs.
“I draw a lot of strength from both of my grandmothers and what they must have gone through.”
Keeping language alive through song
Candace Kruger is completing a PhD at Griffith’s Queensland Conservatorium, exploring ways to keep Indigenous languages alive through song.
A proud Kombumerri / Ngughi woman, Candace spent more than two decades as a classroom music teacher before founding the Yugambeh Youth Choir in 2014. This unique ensemble won a Queensland Reconciliation Award, and performed in the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games.
“We meet twice a week at Logan and on the Gold Coast, and the kids are given the chance to sing in their own language,” she says.
“I refer to it as singing the language alive – we do everything in Yugambeh from the national anthem to Christmas carols and traditional songs set to my own melodies.
“It’s a way in for these kids – music is allowing them to learn their language, rediscover their Aboriginality and find their place.
“It helps them connect to an identity that they hadn’t previously understood, particularly the youth who are in foster care.”
A composer, conductor and author, Candace credits role models like Yugambeh elder Patricia O’Connor for showing her the importance of sharing her language and cultural heritage.
“Women like Aunty Pat, who founded the Yugambeh Museum, have really inspired me,” she says.
“She is one of many female role models in the community who encouraged my pathway.
“When I see the impact I have on the kids in my choirs, I also see how important it is to help the next generation find their voice.”