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Ganbina has recently welcomed a new staff member in our Shepparton office. Brad Argaet has joined the team as a Project Officer. A Yorta Yorta man, Brad was one of those Aboriginal youth who dropped out of the education system by Year 9. As an adult, Brad regrets not completing secondary school and uses his life experience to encourage Ganbina’s Aboriginal youth to not make the same mistake he did. In this Q&A he speaks about his experience growing up as an Aboriginal youth in Shepparton and how he’s finding his new role.

How did the opportunity to apply for the Project Officer role come about?

It was a conversation with Lisa (Ganbina staff member) when I brought in my nephew to the Ganbina office several years ago. She suggested I work for Ganbina and I was off work at the time due to being on Workcover. I kept it in the back of my mind and when I was ready to return to work, there was a role available. So it was good timing.

What are you enjoying about your new role?

I’ve really enjoyed working with the kids and watching them achieve the goals they set, whether it be in education or employment. It’s great watching them grow.

You’re a Yorta Yorta man who grew up in Shepparton. What was your experience like growing up in Shepparton as an Aboriginal person?

I was disconnected from culture growing up. I knew I was Indigenous, but that was as much as I knew. We lived out of town so I was separated from the other Indigenous kids in town and at the school I went to. It wasn’t until high school that I got more involved and wanted to find out more. However I went to a school where Indigenous culture wasn’t apart of school life. I left school early so that created the disconnection again. I wanted to know more about my culture and also to give back to community. So I started talking to my grandfather because once he retired he got more involved in community.

Although Ganbina was in operation when you were at school, you were never a Ganbina participant. Do you wish you had had the opportunity to be on Ganbina’s programs when you were at school? How do you think your education and career journey may have been different if you were involved with Ganbina back then?

Definitely. When I first started learning about Ganbina, I felt I really missed out on the opportunities that today’s kids are getting. I didn’t realise that having that support would have been really good. I didn’t complete Year 9. I started struggling academically so I just left and started working. I’ve had conversation with a few of the kids on our program who are also struggling and considering dropping out. I tell them that you don’t realise until later in life that it’s a mistake to drop out. It impacts your future goals and careers. It just holds you back in life.

I was lucky to get to where I am today but it was really hard. Today I see there are kids in Year 9 and 10 on our program and they think ‘why should I stay at school, when I can work and earn money?’ Or they think ‘School is hard, I’d rather go and work.’ But I tell them that if they drop out, it’s going to limit their choices. I’ve told them I know I’ve been knocked back from jobs and career paths have been blocked to me because I didn’t finish school. I think they do take on board what I say to them because of the feedback I’m getting from the teachers. They’re telling me that these kids (who were thinking of dropping out) are choosing to stay in school. They’re still here, so that’s great.

In your opinion, how does Ganbina’s Jobs4U2 program help Aboriginal children and youth in the Goulburn Valley, particular in regards to education?

I think it has a very positive impact. It also encourages kids to get employment while they’re still at school. I think it’s good to have your own money and get a bit of financial independence, but in a way that doesn’t interrupt your education. We (the project officers) find we help one kid with their resume and now they all want one! (laughs).

We’ve got kids coming to us on a daily basis, ‘hey Brad you helped this person with writing a resume, can you help me write one too?’ It’s a domino effect and they’re all really keen to get an after-school job once someone else has one. I swear me and Sharni (Ganbina Project Officer) are writing 10 resumes a week at the moment!

What do you think Ganbina’s impact is on Aboriginal youth from a cultural perspective?

It’s great. I recently had a 30 minute conversation with a boy who is disconnected from culture. He’s on the program but he told me that he doesn’t feel Aboriginal or people tell him he’s not Aboriginal. But when you’re on the Ganbina program, it’s a culturally safe space. We’re here for community and when a kid says they don’t know a lot about it (their heritage and culture), it’s because we’ve become disconnected but we can learn about it together and we can do that through Ganbina.

What are you looking forward to on the Ganbina calendar for the rest of this year?

Definitely the Youth Achievement Awards night. I’m really looking forward to seeing the kids celebrate their achievements. I’ve been encouraging a lot of the kids to apply. At first some of them will say ‘but I haven’t achieved anything,’ but then I point out – what about your education achievements? Getting your licence? I point out those things and then hopefully they apply for an award. It’s encouraging for them to feel special and get that recognition for all the hard work they’ve put in during the year.