Year 11 student, Zarli Stewart, is a proud Wamba Wamba/Duduora woman and a graduate of the much-admired Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy, Buldau Yioohgen.
Buldau Yioohgen means ‘big dreams’ in Woiworrung language and offers young people a cultural immersion designed to strengthen their sense of connection to Culture.
As well as building meaningful relationships with Indigenous students from across Victoria, the program empowers participants to find the confidence to pursue their dreams.
“When I heard I’d been selected to be part of the program I actually cried with happiness,” Zarli recalls. “I just thought it was so cool.
“Buldau Yioohgen has allowed me to travel to some amazing places and hang out with some very cool people and I still have access to their resources and support services.”
For Zarli the program included work experience with a major racing stable and a trip to Darwin to help out with the National Indigenous Tennis Carnival (NITC)—an event that wasn’t just about tennis.
“There were heaps of other events and performances at NITC,” she says, “and Darwin is the most culturally accepting place I have ever been—it was fantastic.”
Like many Indigenous young people, Zarli has endured common racist or misinformed comments dished out by those with little appreciation for the deep history of Aboriginal cultures and the impacts of colonisation.
“You’re too pale is the classic,” she says.
Zarli’s fascination and thirst for knowledge about her culture is continuing to grow. Involved with the local Dja Dja Wurrung community she also makes the most of cultural opportunities offered at BSSC.
One of these was the Weenthunga Women’s Health Talks, held during first term.
“It was an amazing eye-opener,” Zarli says. “I met so many other Indigenous students and supportive local Aboriginal women.”
Despite being “very shy”, BSSC is a place where Zarli feels at home, both socially and academically.
“The college is a place where I feel comfortable as an Indigenous woman,” she says. “I love that we have the ‘Scholars Hut’ and I use it all the time.
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“I’ve made friends here with people I would have thought were too cool for me if I’d just seen them on the street,” Zarli reflects. “But because we met in class and realised we have heaps in common, we just clicked.
“Maybe my classmates will remember me as the weird friend who talked so much she could be
Zarli says “freedom” is the word that best describes the college.
“The multicultural days and LGBTIQ+ lunches—the concern for Aboriginal students and the comfort of being able to wear your own clothes—all send a strong message that everyone’s free to be truly themselves,” she says.
Academically, Zarli has found the step-up from Year 10 “pretty crazy” making her glad she took a Unit 1-2 subject (Psychology) last year.
“But I’m up for the challenge,” she says, “and I would recommend BSSC to anyone.”
Despite her confidence to cope with what lies ahead, in the past, Zarli kept silent about mental health issues she was struggling with. Now, more open to talk about them, she is also being more proactive in finding support that works for her.
If she could go back and offer her 12-year-old self some advice, she would say, “It’s not actually as hard as it seems… just keep going.”
Zarli is a woman with a plan—a plan that’s been strengthened by advice from a beloved aunt who died of brain cancer.
“My aunt told me not to let anyone tell me what to do with my life,” Zarli remembers with fondness. “If I could talk to anyone, I would love to still be having conversations with her.”
Zarli has taken on the advice—winning a scholarship to study at Federation University and working hard towards realising her ambitions.
Her dream is to study Archeology, and while Zarli’s particular interest is in human artefacts and she acknowledges that “everywhere is interesting”, it is Aboriginal archeology she has set her sights on.
Her dad’s job involves frequent time on Country and whenever it’s appropriate she loves visiting significant sites with him.
“We went to Lake Boga one time to do pH testing of soils,” she recalls. “We also collected environmental data and examined artefacts.
There was an archeologist there and she gave me her card and asked me to contact her once I’ve finished uni. How cool is that!”
Zarli hopes to travel after her undergraduate degree and return to Australia to complete a PhD. Her ultimate dream is to live and work on Country.
“I feel so different when I’m on Country,” she says. “The creation stories really come to life.”