Indigenous students break through at Sydney's Joey's

Forty Aboriginal students from regional towns are now studying at the elite St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, run by the Marist Brothers in Sydney, as top schools seek to replicate the successful program.

The Australian reports that several boarding schools across Australia offer varying degrees of scholarships or assistance programs to Aboriginal students but the program at St Joseph's ("Joeys"), which began in 1998 with one Year 7 student from Walgett in north-western NSW, is probably the largest and most advanced of its kind.

The growing program now accommodates more than 40 Aboriginal children whose fees are paid through assistance from the Federal Government, parents, the school and old boys and other donors. Six boys have already completed their higher school certificate.

In an example of the program's success, Corey Ashby, 14, from Walgett, was shocked when all of his team-mates voted for him as captain of his rugby team. "I was completely surprised," he told the Australian's Glenda Korporaal. "I couldn't believe it."

A little more than a year earlier, Corey had arrived at the school from the northern NSW town, shy and struggling academically.

Back in Walgett, where the attendance rate at the local high school is less than 60 per cent, Corey has become "sort of a role model," he says.

The most famous product of the program to date is 17-year-old Kurtley Beale, captain of the Australian schoolboys' rugby team, who was invited to train with the Wallabies earlier this year.

For the talented Kurtley, the only question about his future with the Wallabies is timing, The Australian says. He is one of six Aboriginal students who finish their HSC this year under the system.

The school has also committed itself to employing a full-time Aboriginal teacher, with accommodation near the college, to help the boys. Craig Duncan, a teacher from Moree, plays a vital role in keeping in touch with parents and the community, ensuring the support network is in place for boys thrown into a very different cultural environment.

A foundation has now been established that is aiming eventually to fund the scheme from its earnings.

Andrew Penfold, a former Joeys boy, who moved back to Sydney two years ago after more than a decade as an investment banker in Hong Kong, put together a group of supporters including former Wallaby Glen Ella, indigenous activist (and the ALP's national president for 2006) Warren Mundine, federal Labor MP Peter Garrett, Suncorp chief executive John Mulcahy, former Soccer Australia head John O'Neill and investment bank Caliburn's chairman Peter Hunt.

They have already raised $1.6 million and aim to reach $5 million.

Drawing on this success, Scots College in Sydney will stage its first fundraiser this month for a new fund, with NSW Governor Marie Bashir in attendance and former ABC radio journalist Sally Loane handling the presentation.

Indigenous assistance program that works (The Australian, 2/9/06)

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St Joseph's College, Hunter's Hill

4 Sep 2006