Year 12 student, Dontae Bysouth, says BSSC gives students room to develop and mature. “I think being able to have choices makes you grow up.

“There are some great teachers and learning experiences at this college, and I’ve realised a lot about responsibility and becoming more independent.”

Dontae has discovered his best learning style is through hands-on experiences.

Last year Dontae and other First Nations students from BSSC created an outstanding short film, ‘The Proud Story’, which was a winner in the 2023 Koorie Youth Flick Festival.

Here’s what the judges had to say about ‘The Proud Story’:

Ngatatji Bysouth, Dontae Bysouth & Tylajae Charvat … bring their strengths together in storytelling, filmmaking, art and music to produce this beautiful retelling of the Creation story of Bunjil.

The film is presently on display at the Bendigo Visitors Centre’s Djaa Djuwima exhibition. Djaa Djuwima means ‘to show and share Country’.

In keeping with a preference for ‘hands-on’ interests, VET Automotive was a favourite for Dontae last year. This year VET Building & Construction and a School Based Apprenticeship Training (SBAT) program—taking Dontae out on Country with Parks Victoria—are making school a good place to be.

SBAT programs allow students to commence an apprenticeship or traineeship while still completing their VCE or VCE VM. Varying between one or two days a week, they join the workforce and complete their Trade Qualifications through TAFE.

“I love that day out on Country each fortnight,” Dontae says about his SBAT—a Horticultural and Land Management Cert II giving him experience in fire management, weed control, pathway maintenance and much more.

The time spent out in the Dja Dja Wurrung forests is so much more than just a chance to get away from the books or town. It gives Dontae an inspiring setting to work alongside a team of people he’s closely connected to.

Worries and stresses drop away.

“On Country I feel free and relaxed and, I know some people might not get this, but it’s like you’re connecting with the Land and the Land makes you feel protected.

“I have spoken with Elders who tell me they speak to the Land and the Land speaks back to them.”
Dontae is grateful he is a First Nations person and appreciates the many people who care for him.

“I’m thankful for what my family give me and teach me—and how they encourage me to use what I’ve learnt.”

Family is integral to Dontae’s sense of how good his life is. He’s proud of his family and enjoys a particularly strong connection with his Nana Iris.

Nana Iris is a respected Elder who is presently working with Bendigo and district Aboriginal Co-operative (BDAC) and Dontae is especially grateful for the stories she has shared with him.

“She is a very wise and spiritual woman and I know I have it so good having her in my life. I get on really well with Dad too, and he and mum have a great relationship and are very supportive of me.”

Dontae’s dad had a tough time with terrible bullying all through his schooling and Dontae admires and respects the strength his dad has had to develop.

“It makes me proud of who I’ve become, who I’m becoming, and who I will become.”

Though his Nana Iris, Dontae is also learning about other mobs he is connected to.

Dontae’s traditional homelands are the Country of the Barkinji. This vast area stretches along the Darling River—traditional name, Baaka—from Mildura in the south, almost to Wanaaring in the north. From the South Australian border east almost to Cobar.

Mutawintji is an ancient oasis on Barkintji Country north-east of Broken Hill. For many many thousands of years this site has been—and continues to be—a very special meeting place for surrounding Aboriginal groups.

It is incredibly beautiful and filled with sacred sites.

Dontae recently drove Nana Iris to Mutawintji so she could spend time on this special Country.

“I learnt a lot from her on that trip,” he says, remembering how happy she was as they got close to ‘Home’.

There are strict rules for non-Aboriginal people visiting Mutawintji, but naturally Dontae and Nana Iris were permitted to visit sacred places few non-Aboriginal people have seen.

“When I’m on Country, I need nothing. Just being there is awesome.”

In contrast to the way being on Country makes him feel, school has not always been a happy place for Dontae. He has struggled to turn up, and once there, found it hard to concentrate.

He spends about 90% of the time wearing airpods and says music is “like a need”—providing a calming soundtrack to his days.

Unsurprisingly, one of his biggest challenges at BSSC is the sheer number of students.

One of the positives is the support he’s had here.

School and schoolwork are also made more bearable because of his fantastic group of mates.

“I really started to pull myself together at the start of Year 12 and found ways to stick with it and finish my education.”

Last year Shane Jackson, teacher of Building & Construction, was someone Dontae connected with strongly. Dontae says Shane’s teaching style was incredibly valuable.

“Shane has 100% helped me make the most of my academic achievements and this year he is my tutor at the Scholars’ Hut.

“So he has to come all the way up all those stairs just to spend time with me,” Dontae says with a laugh.

“Seriously, though,” he continues, “I wish the college could offer all students the benefits we have in the Scholar’s Hut. It’s really made a difference for me.”

If he could travel back and give his 12-year-old self some advice, Dontae says he’d tell himself this: “Keep your head up. Keep pushing through. Keep going with schoolwork. Do what you love—work your butt off for what you love.”