Education and employment outcomes for young Indigenous people have received a boost with a $12.8 million Federal funding grant to build custom-design accommodation at The University of Western Australia-affiliated St Catherine’s College.
The new accommodation was designed following extensive consultation with current Indigenous students at the College, many of whom come from remote areas.
They wanted accommodation that was differently configured, supporting interaction between year groups, more like a family home with strong peer-to-peer support.
It has resulted in accommodation with shared living and learning spaces and a large banksia-shaped central meeting space which will form the focus of the development.
The funding for the building project was announced under the Federal Government’s National Partnership on Remote Housing and will significantly expand the Indigenous access program Dandjoo Darbalung at St Catherine’s College.
The WA State Government will contribute almost $500,000 in additional funds.
Barry McGuire, a Balladong Nyoongar man and ambassador of the program, welcomed the announcement.
“This purpose-built accommodation will provide a space that is balanced for Aboriginal ways of life and learning. From this we will see many prosperous professionals come and stand in all walks of life and proudly represent our people,” he said.
“It will allow young people to excel in their studies and become who they want to be. So, thank you for allowing this space that will be created for our future children.”
Dandjoo Darbalung, which means ‘mixing together’ in the way fresh and salt water mix in the Swan estuary, was established at St Catherine’s College in 2012 to create a wrap-around residential program to support Indigenous students with their tertiary studies while encouraging and nurturing their cultural identity.
The new funding will double the capacity of the Dandjoo Darbalung program to 100 students, creating the largest tertiary residential program of this type and size in Australia.
Billie Kickett-Morris, a Nyoongar woman studying Medicine at UWA and a current resident at St Catherine’s, said she liked the community focus of the program.
“I come from a big Aboriginal family so living here as part of a supportive community makes it easier for me to focus on my studies,” she said.
“The Dandjoo Darbalung program encourages us culturally which has made the transition to university so much easier.
UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said the program did more than support students while they were at university.
“It also works on the key transition points from completing Year 12 into university and subsequently from university into skilled and sustained employment,” Professor Freshwater said.
“Since 2012, the program has achieved higher than a 90 per cent retention rate for Aboriginal students.”
Construction of the accommodation is due to start later this year and program will be fully operational by the start of semester one in 2019. The project is subject to the necessary local government and University approvals.