Marsha Riley

Marsha Riley

Youth leadership programs help break cycle

My name is Marsha. I come from two different tribes and that is the Western Aranda and the Warlpiri tribe. The Community I come from is Ntaria known to others as Hermannsburg, and it’s approximately 100 km out west of Alice Springs.

I live in Alice Springs as a boarder at St. Philip’s College. I have boarded ever since grade four at St. Mary’s which was run by the Anglicare Church. Finishing grade six at Bradshaw Primary School, I moved to St. Philip’s College and have been there ever since.

I am here to tell you all a story of a girl who was raised by her Nana and that girl is me. I was five years old when my mum left me and I cried for days. So did my brothers. I lost a mother and a father at a very young age, I felt insecure and worthless and I had to grow up fast.

My Nana, Marlene Wheeler, is the sweetest, the kindest loving person I have ever met in my life and she is so very dear to me. She became my guardian after finding out my mum had become an alcoholic and my dad was always in and out of jail.

My mum and dad at this point were not together any more. To this day I only know the relatives from my mum’s side and less from my dad’s side, because I didn’t quite feel safe, since dad was never there for me.

In my childhood I experienced violence in our house hold, so it was tough growing up with places to run and sleep for the night. Someone was always getting hurt when alcohol was involved. The whole family would run in fear to have a goodnights sleep at another relatives place.

Nana did the best she could. She made sure we were sheltered and fed. But as I was growing up out bush my life had no meaning and no direction and sometimes I was never heard. I was a shy and quiet girl, no one took notice because we were such a big family and I stuck to what I felt was right and that was to be invisible.

At times I felt I was a nobody, but when I moved to town to attend school I found myself and I slowly achieved both in school and my personality.

While I was boarding at St. Mary’s I found people who cared about me and people who were there for me and those people were my teachers, friends and my house parents Matt and Margaret Jennings. These people were my family away from home.

The road was tough and I struggled, I could not read, nor write because I was a girl from out bush and Maths, English, Spelling and Grammar did not make sense to me. The things that I was good at were sports and art, it made me come out of my comfort zone and develop a character that I felt happy with.

In my journey struggling to achieve I met so many wonderful people, both indigenous and non-indigenous and that made me feel good about myself because I was able to speak without being shy anymore. I never let race get in between. I just wanted to be accepted for being me.

Though I had experienced racism I held my head up and ignored it. It hurt though and I thought to myself, why, why me? I am just trying to fit in after being left out. Then I was told about why it was. It was because the person didn’t feel good about themselves that they picked on other people and that was the end of it. I ignored it completely.

I had occasionally started seeing my mum. She took notice of me after hearing great things about me and I was shocked to see her. It had been along time. I had moved on, but she acknowledges my achievement and I felt grateful for that and I started to see more of her around town. I also found my dad along the way of my journey.

My parents aren’t the best of parents but they can’t change who they are and no matter what they did to me years ago, I forgave them because I didn’t want to have hatred in my heart. Also they were the ones who brought me into this world we all call home and I love them as much as I love my Nana, who raised me to be a stronger person.

Throughout my schooling years I have had lots of opportunities of doing things, going places and most importantly having adventures with strangers, who have become my friends.

Some of these experiences were, going on school camps, some challenging and some adventurous. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know people who I would not talk to at school because when you are at school its hard to talk to someone you don’t know. The camps also made people come out of their shell and come together as one to help each other make it through the tough times out in the wilderness.

I have also had quiet a few trips interstate and overseas. I went on an International Exchange to India, went sailing on the open sea on the Young Endeavour from Cairns to Darwin and attended The Young Indigenous Leadership Program in Brisbane.

Exchange in India was one of the highlights because it made me see the different and interesting cultures people have and not to take life for granted. I may be one person, but I feel I have a very big heart. Poverty was one of the things that stood out to me the most in India and it touched me.

But to make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t need to go to an under developed country to make a change, you can change someone’s life here, just like how I had support and people who cared.

I guess I am an adventurous person who likes to see things, visit different places and meet people and get to know them. The Young Endeavour gave me that; I had never been out to sea, especially for eighteen days because here in town there’s obviously no lake or river, but just the beautiful red dusty landscape of Alice Springs and the wonderful wildlife of Central Australia with the dry Todd that flows occasionally.

Going on the Young Endeavour I experienced sea sickness; it was challenging because I really wanted to be with the others learning how to sail, but soon I snapped out of it. It was amazing to see how the wind worked out there; at times I didn’t understand what to do and where to go to pull ropes here and there. But at the end of my trip I had gained knowledge on how to sail, made more friends and saw a different part of Australia that I had never seen before. It was a challenge to adapt to, but now I have been there and done that and I would encourage anyone because I had such a great time and it was a worth while experience.

Returning back to school, two weeks later I had to leave again to go to Brisbane for The Young Indigenous Leadership Program. When I got there I met so many indigenous students from all over Australia. I also got to tell them my story of when I lost everything at a young age and how people lent a hand that got me where I am now. The leaders there also spoke of being proud of whom you are and where you come from and I took that all in. It gave me the strength to stand out more and be proud of being Aboriginal. If you don’t know where you come from it is hard to find yourself and it’s easy to get lost in all the struggles of life.

Taking advantage of all these opportunities, experiences and all these wonderful adventures has given me the confidence of what it is to be a leader both for indigenous and non-Indigenous people. So I would like to quote a saying by a Chinese philosopher called Laozi,

“To lead people, walk beside them … As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate … When the best leaders works is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!”

In other words I have walked the mile and carried the load. So will many of you here today. Its not who you have to be. It’s what you have to offer to make a change.

I am finishing school this year and I plan on doing one of three great opportunities. One thing I have planned to do is a gap year in a school down south. I am waiting to hear about this placement. I also have the option of going to Uluru and studying tourism for a year and I am keen to join the police force. I might wait until I have more life experience before joining the police force. We'll see...

The things that I have learned have all come from my nana. She has made me the person I am today and taught me the knowledge of love for another, no matter how small or big and which race they come from. She has been my role model whom I have learnt so much from.

Not only that, she’s taught me no matter how hard life gets to be strong and believe in myself. I would like to leave you all with a final thought.

Every individual person is unique. We all have our own struggles to face and the only person who can make things happen is you. Be your own explosive bomb and you explode with a positive impact in society.

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