My Story — Student Voice: Tomzarni Dann
Tomzarni Dann, a recent Curtin University Bachelor of Applied Science graduate, Research Assistant, and AIME National Presenter, sat down with the National Centre team to talk to us about his journey into higher education.
NCSEHE: Research into Indigenous education often finds that it is hard enough for Indigenous students just to finish Year 12, that the idea of then going into higher education is almost a bridge too far. How did you transition into university?
Tomzarni: [Curtin] is the second uni I’ve been to. In year 11 and 12, I was in Darwin, and I went to Komilda College, a pretty rich private school there. That was through AbStudy, actually, and in years 11 and 12 I did some TEE subjects. I really got involved with the school, and they actually run an orientation program through Charles Darwin University. CDU signed me up straight after I finished high school, into the Bachelor of Education Primary School.
I did about two or three years of my education degree, going with the flow, but I found that teaching wasn’t really for me. I started working in my local boarding school as a tutor, since I already had some units from doing education with the homework classes. I was doing that, and then they also wanted me to be a house parent, because I was a boarder myself and they said “Oh, you’ll be a great house parent!” so… I was doing that for about 2 or 3 years, and then my mum, who used to be a lecturer down at the [Curtin] Centre for Aboriginal Studies, told me “Oh there’s this course here, Bachelor of Applied Science, and this is totally you! I can see you doing that if you want to take the time to enrol in the course.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” And I just went with my gut feeling. I was like, “I’ll try it out.”
Luckily mum and dad have a house down here in Perth so that made everything easier. And a car, so… Saves me staying at places I don’t really know. And that’s what you do, you know. Being Aboriginal, it’s a big step to go from one place to another without having any family connections, or any established rapport you already have with people.
NCSEHE: Would you tell us a bit more about your science degree?
Tomzarni: It’s a Bachelor of Applied Science in Indigenous Community Management and Development, and it’s pretty much a degree that deals with program management, project management, and also community development. And you touch upon policies which might be able to enable Indigenous people in starting up organisations, how to run effectively and how to correct some past injustices. You know, with the whole self-determination, and reconciliation, and how to go about it in the right way, because in most Aboriginal organisations, if something goes wrong, everybody gets hung out and then the funding goes away. And yeah, that’s why people are still a bit hesitant in engaging Indigenous organisations, because of the bad representation they have – from the media, anyway.
NCSEHE: And that’s all run through the Centre for Aboriginal Studies?
Tomzarni: Yeah, through the Centre for Aboriginal Studies, on block release. We call it ‘fly in, fly out’. But I live in Perth, so I would drive in and drive out. [The course] was great. I’ve met a fair few Aboriginal people from all across Australia and heard about the good work that they’re doing, and they’ve heard about the good work that I do. We’d get in class and it was a good environment, and we’d just bounce off each other, you know. It’s a positive feeling when you walk in there. They learn from me, and I’ll learn some techniques that they’ve used, and everybody becomes empowered, and they take that empowerment back to their homes and out into the community so people can better themselves.
NCSEHE: How did you come to be involved with AIME?
Tomzarni: Well, everybody knows me at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies, and Lauren [Cramb] came to track me down. She heard about me from the start, and she was like “Oh, I don’t know if this bloke is a myth, or…?” So she sent me an email and we met up and I just spoke about what I do, and she’s like “Tom, that totally mirrors what we’re doing here at AIME, but with high school students.” And I was like, “Well, I’m happy to contribute” and got on board.
I had the previous experience of working with kids at boarding school and also in after school work. I did the after school work with kids in Thornlie, actually, through an organisation called Relationships Australia, which was a partnership with Save the Children and the City of Gosnells. We’d pick the kids up on a Friday afternoon, and take them to the community centre, so they could burn some energy. We’d play some sports with them, and cook a meal for them or order pizza, and chill out and play a bit more sport or do a hip hop workshop and teach them how to dance, and get them tired so that when they got home they wouldn’t be walking the streets afterwards and getting into mischief. That was for the truancy and the train lines, I think, because there are a lot of kids hanging out along the Armadale line. But as with most programs to do with youth, the funding ran out, so…
NCSEHE: Could you see some of those kids coming to university, or do they need a bit more…?
Tomzarni: I reckon they probably could, yeah. I’ve worked with most of the kids here through AIME already, and they are pretty academically sound, but it’s just about having that confidence and motivation, and seeing that there are positive role models out there.
With the Aboriginal people, you hear ten or twenty bad stories about Aboriginal people, and you don’t really hear the success stories much. I don’t know if that’s the media or just how it’s always been.
But yeah, the kids AIME works with really do get on. If they want to go to university, they really want to do it, and we encourage them. But also, if they want to do a trade or an apprenticeship or just get into work – we just want them to do something after school finishes. If you’re not doing anything, you’re going to get into mischief.
NCSEHE: Who are your role models?
Tomzarni: There was a student who was studying at the same as me, he was actually lecturing last year at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies, and he was doing his Honours in anthropology. I used to just sit there with him and have a yarn, not really about the academic side of things, but just about life itself, and where we’re going in life.
My father is a Nyulnyul man, and my mother is Bardi, and I’m pretty much compared to my father in how I conduct myself. If I need some sound advice, my parents know exactly what they’re doing, and about the whole process of studying and dealing with personal life issues that get thrown at you. My parents have both been university students themselves, but they had to go… Aboriginal people couldn’t access education back in the old days, so they had to do a bridging course, and go through the whole process of that for them to actually get their degrees. They studied at ECU, and met staff members who are now lecturers down at the Centre for Aboriginal Studies, which is how I came to be there.
I’ve been very lucky to be influenced by my parents.