Santa Teresa Gap Year Experience

“That if every Non-Indigenous person, just simply, within the everyday power that you have, in your work place. With the regular authority that you have, with the everyday resources that you have ,just simply turn your mind occasionally to what you could do with that for the benefit of Indigenous Australians and do that just once a year and that would be a movement of 20 odd million people which I’m sure over a decade would result in a situation or circumstance that I can’t possibly imagine for that small 500,000 fellow Australians…” (c) Professor Michael McDaniel.
As the first Galen student to have spent a gap year in Ltyentye Apurte, N.T, I would love to share my experience with the staff, students and affiliates of Galen College. My journey towards becoming a part of the Ltyentye Apurte community began at Galen, during 2008. My passion for Aboriginal reconciliation stemmed from the opportunities Galen offered and my interest in politics, especially in regards to the handling of the intervention. Combined with my sense of justice and a desire to create positive change in the world, I felt compelled to question why things are the way they are. It is how we choose to express our faith and integrity that determines the influence we have on each other and the global community.
For me, spending 6 months in a remote Indigenous community was one way I could pursue my interest in aboriginal culture, as well as getting to travel to various parts of the N.T.  Having been involved in a number of volunteer projects at school, such as Soup Van and regular youth masses, I felt as though I found the perfect way to spend my GAP Year, which would allow me to call upon the social skills I had learned through extra-curricular experiences.
Living in a remote Indigenous community is not without its challenges. It is never easy living in another culture, especially one so different from your own.The hardest thing I have found is accepting the fact that one person cannot change and remove the difficulties that entangle today’s current indigenous Australians.I chose the quote at the beginning of this article because it is a summation of how we can work together to bring unity and reso- lution to black and white Australia. We must work together and learn from each other, as well as past mistakes, in order to create a better future for our country. Change will not happen over night. Change will not happen next year, or the year after. It is a long process of healing that takes generations. I have begun to understand this and am finding that patience is essential for healing to take place.
Following on from the previous paragraph, it has been difficult for me to witness the potential of youth here not being put to practise, or at least the potential that I see in them. The students I tutor are incredibly intelligent, contrary to what many believe, and encouraging them to pursue their own aspirations hasn’t been easy due to cultural factors. Indigenous Australians don’t see the value of education in the same way as westernised
Australians do.
[We’re still here now, and our old people have the accumulation of 40,000 years of knowledge. We must be valued for [the] contributions we make to this society on our own terms and on our own points of view because we’re not exotic and romantic or remnants of people. We’re here and now and we’re just human beings with a different culture and history.  Participant, HREOC Indigenous Youth Forum, August 1999]
Having lived here since July 2011, my values and beliefs have changed dramatically. The people of this community have taught me more than I thought they could, and I am forever grateful for the impact they have had on my own outlook on life. I discovered that success lies not in having the most well-paid job or being the most intellectual student.  Success lies in your ability to learn and grow, whilst fulfilling your dreams and helping others realise their dreams.
If I could offer advice to current VCE students of Galen College, I would encourage you to keep your options open and pursue what you enjoy. Your life does not end once you have finished year 12. Your ATAR score may be an indication of your efforts in school but it is not a measure of how successful you are and what you can achieve after school; you have your whole life ahead of you.
And for those who return from such immersion trips as Santa Teresa: don’t let the experience become just another fun holiday.  Listen to the communities you become involved in and learn from them; they want to share their stories with you.
Mark Gilbert, 2010 Galen Graduate