“Looking back, it was a learning experience. It was something I had to go through to learn that I didn’t want my future to be like that.”
The Bathurst-based hostel connected Haidarr with the Indigenous youth service, Tirkandi Inaburra Cultural and Development Centre, which runs programs for 12-15-year-old boys from country New South Wales and Victoria, with the goal of empowering Aboriginal youth.
“They take Indigenous boys and turn them into men,” Haidarr says. “They have a school and lots of cultural activities, and over a three to six-month program, they take kids like me from rough neighbourhoods and turn them into strong young people. The hostel said to me, that’s a cool program, why don’t you look into it.”
Haidarr thrived at Tirkandi and was especially thrilled to celebrate his 16th birthday there.
“I loved it—it was the best experience of my life, because it was the first time, I’d started to make real mates.”
At the end of the program, Haidarr was sent to a private city school with an Indigenous program in Sydney but found it difficult to fit in, so left again after just six months.
“By that stage, I can’t even remember how many primary and high schools I’d been to,” he says.
Haidarr finally settled with extended family in Port Lincoln, South Australia, and for the first time, at age 17, got to stay at the same school for longer than six months. It had a transformational impact on his educational experience.
“It was the first time I got to spend a whole year at one school, make friends, and really sit down and study. After failing every other year of high school, in Year 12, I started getting As and Bs.
“I was very surprised. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I discovered that when I push myself and get consistent support, I can achieve things.”
With his South Australian Certificate of Education in hand, Haidarr was the first in his family to graduate high school but did not fully appreciate what this meant.
“No-one told me I could go to university. It wasn’t until I was working on the tuna boats that someone said, you’ve got an ATAR, you could go to uni. I thought it was fun working on the boats and I was happy earning money, but my workmates said they wouldn’t do it if they had an opportunity elsewhere.
“None of my friends were going to uni. Some of them were going down rough pathways and struggling, but they also said, you’ve got an opportunity, you should take it.
“So, after a year on the boats, I submitted applications to all three universities in Adelaide.”
Haidarr knew nothing about university, and his first day at Flinders University was the first time he had ever stood on a campus.
But he was excited to start—even though it meant spending his first year of study in yet another youth homeless shelter.
“Not many people knew I was studying at the shelter, but I was really fortunate to have that opportunity. It was a massive trek from the hostel to uni—I had to travel by train and bus every day—but I’d always had to walk everywhere in the country towns I lived in, so I really enjoyed being on public transport.”
In Year 12, with the encouragement of a supportive teacher, Haidarr had discovered that his favourite and best subject was Information Publishing and Processing, so decided to embark on a Bachelor of Media (Creative Arts).
Throughout his three-year degree, scholarships and donor funded bursaries were essential for keeping Haidarr on track, in addition to several paid internships through the CareerTrackers Indigenous Internship Program, which also gave him valuable work experience.
In first year, he received the $5,000 City of Port Adelaide Enfield Aboriginal Scholarship—“That was really significant for me; I’d never had that kind of money before, even working long hours on the tuna boats”. In second year, Haidarr was awarded the University’s Fij Miller Indigenous Bursary worth $1,000; and in third year, he won the $4,000 Flinders AET Scholarship for Indigenous Students in the Creative Arts.
The discovery of the Centrelink AbStudy subsidy also helped him move from the homeless shelter to a residential college in second year.
Haidarr says the scholarships and bursaries made a huge difference.
“I didn’t have anyone to support me financially or any other source of money. That could have been something that held me back. Receiving these scholarships made my life so much easier. It’s something I’m very grateful for—that there are people out there willing to help people like me who struggle. I feel very, very appreciative.”
Haidarr also benefitted from Flinders’ Yunggorendi Student Engagement support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
“I was very connected with Yuggorendi. I would be in their office, and to the student support area and common room. I had a lot of support from those guys, and I credit them for pushing me to finish my studies. Without them I wouldn’t have made it.”
Even grappling with the challenge of tertiary study and living in a homeless shelter, Haidarr was inspired to take on leadership and mentoring roles for other Indigenous students, becoming the founding president of the University’s Indigenous Students’ Association in first year, and an Indigenous Student Support Officer in second year.
“As a part of those networks, I really got involved in creating more cultural awareness around the campus, helping to create events and getting more Indigenous knowledge out there.”
This theme has continued for Haidarr post-study. After completing his degree in 2015, he was one of two recipients in early 2016 of a highly competitive two-year Indigenous traineeship with ABC News, which quickly turned into an exciting fulltime career as an Operations Specialist (Camera/Edit/Sound/Drone) based in Adelaide.
“After the first six to nine months, I was filming independently and by the end of the first year, was fully doing the job,” he says. “And that was because the staff at ABC are really supportive people and let me jump right in. They were so accommodating and excited to train someone up.”
“It felt really good. I’m the first person in my whole family to get a fulltime job. I didn’t really know what that meant until I got it.”
Haidarr’s role gives him the opportunity to tell Indigenous stories and get Indigenous culture into mainstream media, reaching the broader Australian public.
“There have been so many highlights,” he says. “I’ve been able to see things and film things that no-one ever does—we cover so many things where cameras don’t usually go.
“Last year, I visited a small Indigenous community in Tasmania and got to engage with them first-hand. It was a big learning experience, how to create an exciting program that the whole community is going to love, but I find those challenges really fun. It’s wonderful. That’s what I would love to do much more of.”
Apart from Indigenous community projects, Haidarr also enjoys covering politics and sports, working on programs such as Playschool and Q&A, and the more unique opportunities, such as covering the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex for their Australian tour in 2018.
“Who would’ve thought a young person like me would be doing anything like that?”
Haidarr has a natural aptitude and instinct for it: “It is fun, and I’m often first on the scene, getting the news before anyone else.”
Reflecting on his experience as a student at Flinders, Haidarr says one of the biggest highlights was “doing something different”, and he is committed to passing that on.
“It was being a part of things I never thought I could. I didn’t do that much in high school, but I went from failing school to getting high distinctions at uni.
“I had a lot of support at Flinders to do this—I had people who actually wanted to see me go places—and since then, I’ve been able to support other students.”
Haidarr still assists Flinders with its Indigenous Student Engagement, as well as mentoring students at the University of Adelaide, and mentoring and volunteering in the community—“wherever I get the chance, I help out,” he says.
“There’s always a need for more mentoring. There are young people going to high school and university who are struggling, and often all they need is someone to encourage them. The reason I do it is because I know it helps.”
Less than five years after completing his degree, Haidarr also just ticked the box on another lifelong dream, buying his own house.
“I didn’t think it was possible, but I did it!”
Let’s all thrive together! You can help other students like Haidarr achieve their dreams by giving to student scholarships. Please donate here.