NACCHO team member news: Arika Errington’s 10-year journey to become a University graduate is a story of true perseverance.

Faculty of Arts & Design and Faculty of Business, Government & Law Graduation Sept 2013

NACCHO team member Arika Errington’s 10-year journey to become a University of Canberra graduate is a story of true perseverance.

An Aboriginal woman who grew up in Canberra, Ms Errington graduated with a Bachelor of Arts after having been diagnosed with depression and anxiety while studying and moving from Queensland to Tasmania and Melbourne before settling back in Canberra.

“It doesn’t quite feel real, I also feel relieved … it was a rough 10 years of starting, leaving, changing disciplines, illness, and self doubt,” Ms Errington said of graduating in a ceremony at Parliament House on 25 September.

“My aim is to one day be a voice for my people, to teach others about who we are as a community and the oldest living culture on earth … I want to change the assumptions/judgements people automatically make about Aboriginal people rather than judging them on their actions as human beings.”

Article Krystin Comino
Arika Errington pictured at her University of Canberra graduation ceremony at Parliament House. Photo: Michelle McAulay

The 29-year-old said she was “proud to even be offered the opportunity” to go to the University, majoring in journalism to follow in the footsteps of her father, William Errington, a former press photographer. Her mother Tjanara Goreng Goreng is an assistant professor at the University’s Ngunnawal Centre, which provides support and education programs for Indigenous students.  Ms Errington said she has been inspired by her parents.

“I’m only attending my graduation so my mum and dad can see. I did it all for them, they have given me nothing but love and respect my entire life, whilst dealing with their own personal traumas,” she said.

“My mob are called the Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli people from Queensland and I’ve always known my culture growing up, my parents both made sure I knew who I was and where I was from, my mum used to sing me songs in language and I hope one day I’m blessed enough to share those to my children so some of our language can continue.”

Ms Errington moved to Queensland for a while in her teen years before her mother encouraged her  to do the Ngunnawal Centre’s foundation program to prepare her to study at the University of Canberra, a program she later ended up teaching in, saying “all I wanted was to help students who were like me succeed”.

Despite calling Canberra home, Ms Errington has moved around a lot in her life, including living in a rainforest at a place called Main Arm Upper in NSW.

“We lived on the land without electricity, running water, and a makeshift toilet out the back, checking myself for leaches and ticks at the end of each day.”

Moving back to Canberra to start her studies, she took a break from university to work in Melbourne for a few years before returning to the University of Canberra, where she spent some time living on campus.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to finish something I started. I completed a literature class but I was really unhappy (I eventually was diagnosed with depression/anxiety which I didn’t know about at the time) and moved to Tasmania where my mum was working at a university to have a break and be with my family,” she said.

“I then moved to Melbourne in 2005 and started a job, got my own place, and began finding out who I was and who I wanted to be, then in 2006 I woke up one day and decided to leave behind my life in Melbourne, and finish uni.”

Since 2012 she has worked in the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation as a project coordinator on the ‘Talking About the Smokes’ research project – designed to help Indigenous people quit smoking – in partnership with Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin.

“I’m extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity because it has helped me grow as a person, and understand my true value, and also I get to show other Aboriginal people how to gather data for our project, the youngest I’ve trained to be a research assistant was 17, and the eldest 72, it’s really helping our communities and mob and showing them that anything is possible, no matter where you live or how old you are, it’s been great seeing different communities, community control at its finest.”

She also recently began a communications officer position with the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM), allowing her to draw on her journalism skills.

“I really respect what CATSINaM does for our people and for the Indigenous health sector and I enjoy being a part of two National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak bodies.”

She was also recently awarded a scholarship to attend the ‘She Leads’ program run by the YWCA of Canberra in a Diploma of Management with leadership as a main focus.

There are over 155 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander students currently studying at the University


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NACCHO:Real stories of real people: Kevin Manantan is Talking About The Smokes (TATS) to his community



NACCHO:Real stories of real people who are working to deliver better health outcomes for Aboriginal people

“Meet Kevin Manantan,  he is a Taepithiggi man from west of the Mapoon Peninsula,

 He was the first research assistant in the Talking About the Smokes project to undertake research work in his community at Mapoon.

Kevin first got involved in the TATS project when Apunipima Cape York Health Council and Lousie “Aunty Lou” Akenson, who is the Coordinator: Primary Health at Mapoon, asked if he’d be willing to speak with his community about their smoking stories,

“I am always keen to help my people,” Kevin told Tav (Project Coordinator for Talking About the Smokes) during one of their daily phone conversations.

His hard work during April and May of 2012 gathering important information in his local community resulted in the Mapoon health centre obtaining valuable results about people’s thoughts, feeling and attitudes towards smoking in Mapoon.

Kevin Mapoon1

 Kevin has now continued on supporting his community and his people in his new role as Tobacco Action Worker with Apunipima Cape York Health Council and last December spoke at the Tackling smoking and healthy lifestyles conference in Canberra about his experiences and how the results from wave 1 of the TATS project has benefited his local community.

 As wave 2 of the TATS project is quickly approaching for Mapoon, Kevin is once again keen to support his people and get on with collecting evidence about what actually works in tobacco control for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

So it just goes to show, anyone,anywhere can work in research if they want to, and it could even lead into a career as it did for Kevin.

Our next good news story will be about Chanel Webb from Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Medical Service in Canberra.

If you’d like to find out more information about the Talking About the Smokes project, please contact Josie May at or by calling 02 6246 9300”

An Olympian fight to reduce the deaths and misery to Aboriginals caused by smoking

Associate Professor David Thomas, a researcher at Menzies School of Health Research ( a NACCHO partner) and the Lowitja Institute, cautions that efforts to tackle high smoking rates amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, prisoners and people with mental illness must not add to the stigma often faced by these groups. Blame the industry, not the people who suffer from its products, he says.

Our thanks to Melissa Sweet CROAKEY and David Thomas for this article

Australia has many gold medalists in the Olympian fight to reduce the deaths and misery caused by smoking.

Australia topped the medal tally at the Luther Terry Awards for worldwide achievement in tobacco control this year.

This Australian tobacco control elite gets its just international recognition and all Australians benefit from the continually falling national smoking prevalence.

Or maybe not all Australians?

The most recent national survey data suggests that only 15.1% of Australians aged 14 and over smoked daily in 2010, down from 22.5% in 1998.

But smoking rates are still much, much higher among the most disadvantaged.

We do not have reliable trend data for all disadvantaged groups, but we do know that smoking rates are falling among lower SES groups and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, sometimes slower and sometimes faster than in the rest of the population, but always from a much higher level.

This means smoking is gradually becoming increasingly concentrated in more disadvantaged groups.

And so this is where our tobacco control efforts need to be more and more concentrated.

This week in Croakey, Billie Bonevski and Amanda Baker drew attention to a special issue of Drug and Alcohol Review about tackling smoking among the most disadvantaged groups in Australia.

In order to Close the Gap, Australian governments have allocated more than $138m to tackling smoking among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Smoking rates among Aboriginal and Torres Islander people are more than double those of other Australians.

Similar levels of attention in the new National Tobacco Strategy, and funding, are needed now for tobacco control for the mentally ill and prisoners who have even higher smoking rates.

We need to be sure that all we are doing in tobacco control works in the most disadvantaged populations.  International reviews of the evidence suggest probably similar impacts across the social gradient of the different elements of tobacco control, but that increasing cigarette taxes has a greater impact on poorer smokers.

But the tax rise in April 2010 was the first real increase in Australian cigarette taxes since 1999, with future increases now impeded by the political threat of scare campaigns about new taxes.

We still need more research to better understand and monitor the impact of existing tobacco control strategies in the most disadvantaged populations.

We will probably get a huge impact from just doing more and better, with a bit of tweaking, of what we have been doing so well.  We do not need to entirely reinvent the tobacco control cookbook but we do need to keep trialing new strategies.

I am optimistic.

Increasing numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander smokers have been successfully quitting, even before the new government investments in Indigenous tobacco control.  Prisoners say they want to quit.  The mentally ill are also similarly motivated to quit as other smokers; but while they are less often successful in their attempts, when they do quit the symptoms of their mental illness improve too.

The tobacco industry loves to paint tobacco control advocates as a bunch of finger-wagging, hectoring nanny-staters. The most disadvantaged will be part of the solution, but they need not be blamed for the problem.

Care should be taken when offering extra attention to these populations to not further stigmatise these already marginalised people.

The Australian tobacco control community has only has one competitor in this race: the transnational tobacco companies.  They are an evil and conniving bunch.  We continue to learn more and more about them by examining the previously secret internal tobacco industry documents.

The Medical Journal of Australia this month published the first systematic examination of the tobacco industry documents in order to understand the relationship between the tobacco companies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The documents found no evidence of special targeting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by the industry.  The Australian Indigenous market may be too small.

The article re-tells the 1984 story of a Brisbane Aboriginal organisation forcing WD and HO Wills to withdraw a cigarette advertisement because it was racist.

Aboriginal people can celebrate this victory as yet another contribution to our national medal tally in the ongoing competition against Big Tobacco and the suffering it causes.

• Associate Professor David Thomas is a tobacco control researcher at Menzies School of Health Research and the Lowitja Institute.