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Supporting more First Nations students in the community services sector

Tanya McDonald at CDU's Alice Springs campus.
CDU Workplace Assessor in Children, Health and Community Tanya McDonald has joined CDU in Alice Springs and wants to inspire more First Nations students to work in the community services sector.

Proud Kirrae Whurrong, Gundijitmarra, Gunai Kurnai woman Tanya McDonald wants to improve the rates of First Nations students working in the community services sector in Alice Springs to help reduce family violence.

The Northern Territory has the highest rates of domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia, with Aboriginal women and children disproportionately bearing the brunt of this violence.

The Charles Darwin University (CDU) Workplace Assessor in Children, Health and Community relocated to Alice Springs from Victoria in early May, with two of her children, and is one of the first female First Nations VET lecturers to join the University in Alice Springs.

The mother of four from East Gippsland, is a relation of Banjo Patterson, with her family originally living on country along the Snowy River.

Ms McDonald’s grandmother was part of the Stolen Generation, who was taken from her family and placed in the Framlingham Mission near Warrnambool and later at the Lake Tyers Mission.

Ms McDonald has defied the odds. She left the Framlingham Mission on Kirrae Wurrong (Girai Wurrung) country, where she was living besides the Hopkins River in Victoria, after escaping a violent situation.

It was after enrolling in a Diploma of Community Services that Ms McDonald realised her passion for the sector. She went on to study a Diploma in Family Therapy and later gained a teaching qualification that led her to an education role at South West TAFE. 

In 2019, Ms McDonald was awarded Victorian Koori Student of the Year.

“There was a real determination to get myself out of the situation I was in, and when I saw that there weren’t many Indigenous people in my field, that gave me the extra push I needed to finish my degree, and move into teaching,” Ms McDonald said.

VET Team Leader Children, Health and Community Wendy Lever-Henderson said it was critical for CDU to have staff members and educators who identify as Indigenous working in the Territory.

“We have a number of First Nations students at CDU, but we think we can increase that with Tanya in the role and we know that our First Nations people will feel safer in the good hands of Tanya,” Ms Lever-Henderson said.

Ms McDonald is teaching students in Alice Springs and hopes to see more First Nations students coming through CDU, as well as more careers in the community services space.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’ve experienced in the past – you are worthy of a career like this and have a lot to offer someone going through a tough time,” she said.

“As Indigenous people, we have to work a bit harder and try a bit harder to overcome the obstacles, but it’s possible to overcome what you’ve been through and find a better path.”

CDU launched the first purple bench in the Northern Territory, as part of a global campaign to raise awareness for family and domestic violence.

If you or someone you know is experiencing family or domestic violence contact 1800RESPECT.

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