Regina Richardson, Western Australia

Regina Richardson, Western Australia
01 Jun 2015

Certificate III and IV in Community Services, Certificate IV in Youth Work, Diploma of Community Services and a Diploma of Counselling
2014 Western Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year
Finalist 2014 Australian Training Awards

She was sitting beside me with her reading book about a teddy bear.  I smiled at those big brown eyes and asked her if she had a teddy bear.  No, was the answer. 

“I don’t have a teddy, I live with my Nan because mum’s in jail for hurting my dad with a knife.”

I told her that was ok, as I had lots of family in jail too.  I told her I lived with my Nan for a while when I was little also.  Then the shame left her tired five year old eyes and she told me more.

This wasn’t the moment that I decided I wanted to be children’s advocate and social worker.  However, it was another reminder that I needed to do something with the knowledge I had.  For many years my own fear of failure and rejection stopped me from pursuing the life I deserved. 

My name is Reggie, I am a Yamatji woman of the Amangu group in the mid-west region of Western Australia.  My family are one of the traditional owners of my beautiful harsh country and I have great pride in being able to call myself Aboriginal.  I have spent all of my life growing up around family and have seen the direct impacts of trans generational and intergenerational trauma on our people.  I wasn’t going to be another victim so in 2013, I took a deep breath and enrolled at TAFE (the Durack Institute of Technology).

Completing school was something I always wanted but never had the opportunity to do so.  Changing schools 18 times had taken its toll and soon I was so far behind I stopped trying to catch up.  By the time I was 15 I had to give up on school completely as I was homeless and staying at different places, just surviving.  So you can imagine how terrified I was walking up the steps of TAFE with my three children in tow to start the next chapter of my life.

The first year at TAFE flew by and I had plenty of roadblocks along the way with sorry business, cultural commitments, work and being a mum.  This was all taken into consideration by the staff and I was able to work in an accepting and supportive environment.

The level at which the training was delivered was successful in meeting the multiple learning styles of all the students. Although the staff had a curriculum to follow, it was often student-directed learning which allowed students to ask questions or address key areas of concern.  No-one was left behind as the core focus was that you succeed and be competent in your chosen industry.

The most rewarding part of my training was work placement.  I was based at the Aboriginal Workforce Development Centre (AWDC) and the staff immediately took me under their wing.  Two months later I was employed by AWDC as an emergency mentor.  During my second year at TAFE completing a Diploma of Community Services and Diploma of Counselling, I was again employed by the AWDC to participate in a pilot project as Project Mentor.  This hands-on experience allowed me to work autonomously in my chosen industry and see firsthand the multiple complex issues of human service work.

It was during my placement that my supervisor noticed my experience and suggested I apply for recognition of prior learning (RPL).  I had never paid much attention to RPL when it was discussed in class and didn’t realise I was studying areas that I was already competent in.  I was successful in being credited for multiple units which was extremely helpful.

I chose to further my education and attend university which is so much more difficult than I had imagined.  Completing the two Diplomas in the second year at TAFE gave me an automatic 12 month credit for university.  What vocational education and training at TAFE has done, though, is pretty special - I usually have more practical skills than the first, second and third year university students!

Sadly now, I can’t just go and start yarning with my lecturer about the social issues affecting the people in our town anymore.  It’s so much more formal, the standards and expectations are higher than I had anticipated but I know it’s all achievable with commitment and practice. TAFE was the place I learnt so much about myself and my capacity to still learn as a mature age woman.  The worst moments of my life have become the strengths that set me apart from anyone else.  TAFE empowered me personally and professionally and it was during my two years at TAFE that I discovered the unique qualities I possess.

My positive attributes and TAFE training make me greatly sought after in the community services industry in my town.  After winning the local and state vocational education and training awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year 2014, I am now sharing with others the amazing opportunities that present themselves from further education.

To date, I have given presentations to staff at Durack Institute of Technology, TAFE students and high school students. I have been a key note speaker for International Women’s Day, completed radio interviews and soon will attend visits at our local prison to share my story with inmates. 

I have been the successful recipient of two study grants from Rio Tinto and Graham Polly Farmer Foundation. I have also received two scholarships from the Aboriginal Employment Education and Training Committee and Bendigo Bank and a training scholarship with Karen Hulls in trauma training.  Trauma and healing will be the areas that I will specialise in in the future.

Whenever I get overwhelmed with the challenges of my job, and daydream about giving up, I think of my beautiful children who tell me how proud they are of me and they are seeing firsthand that education doesn’t end after high school. 

I also think of her, that little girl with her book, shivering in the cool southerly breeze and knowing I was privileged to hear that story and I may be the only grown up she ever shares that with. 

I also think of me, what I want, where I’ve come from and where I’m heading. 

No-one made this possible for me - I did it.  People helped along the way but it was my determination to honour my dreams of empowering little people whose voices are sometimes not heard that get me through the hard times.

It is true that change starts within you.  See that person in the mirror staring back at you, they want a chance at something better and what better way to start, than in an environment that wants the very best of you to SHINE. 

- Reggie