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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