I’m the Executive Officer of Ganbina Koori Economic Employment & Training Agency Inc, a peak indigenous representative body that has been operating in the Shepparton region for employment and training.

In his article, Essendon Football Club CEO Peter Jackson quotes a response from a workshop he conducted in Shepparton a few years ago: “there are no indigenous checkout chicks in Safeway and Coles. There are no tellers in bank branches. I want our younger people to feel welcome in the mall. I want to see my kids skipping to school.”

At the recent launch of the Barphirdhila Program, Peter cited the need for the program because “…only three indigenous students were undertaking VCE and that no indigenous youth were employed in the retail sector.”

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter that it is totally unacceptable for Indigenous community members to be continually represented at the wrong end of the social indicator scale.

We believe that Ganbina’s efforts in education retention, training and employment are reshaping the thinking behind Indigenous employment participation and creating a cultural shift.

Ganbina’s registrations show we have 34 indigenous students undertaking VCE studies in 2009 (15 in Year 12 and 19 in Year 11). These are the best numbers in the past 15 years and they are directly attributable to Ganbina’s longer-term engagement and partnership with individuals and their families.

Indeed, the 2009 Year 12 students are the original Year 7 students from the 2004 program engagement.

A greater number of indigenous youth are seeking to develop employments skills and history while still involved in their secondary schooling.

Of the 26 youth currently in employment, 15 are working in the retail sector in such companies as KFC, Hungry Jacks, Coles and IGA.

One of these youth, Jordan, a Year 10 student, spoke of his after-school work: “I’m happy to have my own money to spend and later on I want to save.” Braydon, Jordan’s younger brother, a Year 9 student, was disappointed that KFC informed him that he was too young to work. Braydon has now placed an application with Hungry Jacks.

Shepparton’s indigenous community is making progress in improving the future prospects of its youth, in education and in employment.

It’s sometimes difficult and there’s is much work to be done, but we are heading in the right direction.