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A home away from home

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Being away from family and Country to study at university has its challenge for Curtin students Jasmine John and Jai Spencer, but a program called Dandjoo Darbalung is making sure they feel supported.

Dandjoo Darbalung students Jai Spencer and Jasmine John. Photo: Sam Proctor

Dandjoo Darbalung provides culturally relevant support services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who are studying at TAFE or university in Perth. The program is run by St Catherine’s College, which offers accommodation at UWA and Curtin’s Exchange precinct. Dandjoo Darbalung means ‘mixing together’ in Nyungar and relates to the way fresh water and saltwater mix in the Swan River.

Jasmine John is a Nyikina woman from Broome studying occupational therapy. Dandjoo Darbalung was a key reason why she chose to reside at St Catherine’s. She says the program has been instrumental in helping her settle into Perth and find her confidence.

“Dandjoo Darbalung has provided many opportunities. I’ve participated in creating canvas artworks as well as weaving and cultural practices, which have helped to shape my individual identity as an Indigenous woman away from home.

“I’ve also been able to meet other young Indigenous women and we’ve been able to sit and yarn about our ambitions and futures.”

“Dandjoo Darbalung provides me with a sense of home and I have made life-long connections with people who I now consider my family.”

John originally began her OT degree at UWA but switched to Curtin after encouragement from her older brother.

“He often spoke of the opportunities he was presented with at Curtin and the amazing support from CAS [Centre for Aboriginal Studies] in his study journey.”

In addition to being a full-time student, John is a keen artist and creates vivid and detailed paintings inspired by colours of the Kimberly. Through Dandjoo Darbalung, John was selected to paint a design on a ceremonial glass shield that was gifted to the Western Bulldogs in this year’s AFL Indigenous Round.

“This opportunity has been very special and brought recognition to my artwork,” she says.

An Aboriginal dot painting of four black and white circles with lines leading to a central circle, surrounded by shapes of bold colours including yellow, red, green and blue.

Painting helps Jasmine John feel connected to her hometown of Broome.

From east to west

Like John, Jai Spencer knows what it’s like to miss home. A Barkindji man from the Murray-Darling area in NSW, he moved to Perth to study a Bachelor of Science at Curtin.

“Being away from family is challenging but also being away from Country takes a toll,” he says.

“But learning about and being accepted into Nyungar culture since moving to WA and learning about it has really helped with the transition.”

For Spencer, highlights of Dandjoo Darbalung have included tutoring Indigenous high school students and participating in cultural dance events.

“The people within the program are friendly. We’re always there for one another if we need to talk because we see each other as family.”

When he’s not busy with Dandjoo Darbalung, Spencer is usually in Curtin’s computer labs completing assignments with his peers or taking a cheeky nap at the hammock hotel. He would like to transition into one of Curtin’s engineering courses but is keeping his graduate options open.

“I would like to find stable work somewhere and save until I’m ready to settle down. But you never know where life will take you, so we’ll have to see!”

For John, she would like to return home to the Kimberly and give back to her community as a qualified occupational therapist.

“I would love to provide that opportunity for Indigenous people to receive services from a fellow Indigenous person, so they feel safe and comfortable.”

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