Gauai Wallace Jnr is participating in the Cape York Leaders Program and is learning what it means to become a good leader. He hopes to use newfound skills to better serve the nation’s Indigenous communities.
Leaving the security of the nest is a difficult process, for both youth and parents. One must navigate the transition from a nurturing household to the uncertainties of a faraway city with a sense of resilience and curiosity. One young man from Cooktown, Gauai Wallace Jnr, is on this journey. He has accomplished much along the way, whilst fostering a continued connection with home.
Through an academic scholarship to Cape York Leaders Program (CYLP), Gauai has just completed his studies at Brisbane Boys’ College, a rare opportunity for young residents of Cape York. With a program grounded in fostering leadership skills, CYLP has been highly successful in recognising talented Indigenous youth and providing a pathway to higher education and employment. In 2019, the program achieved a retention rate of 92 per cent of enrolled students with nine students graduating Year 12.
Gauai was initially hesitant about joining the program and leaving home for a full-time boarding arrangement in Brisbane. His parents, both former CLYP participants, were there to reassure him. They talked about the possibilities awaiting him and what his future could look like. They also reassured him that he could return home in the school holidays and engage in his favourite activities – hunting and fishing. The consistent mentoring from local CYLP Student Support Officers also proved critical to his happiness and progression.
“Sending Gauai away to boarding school was difficult and we miss him a lot,” said Gauai’s mother, Zeila. “But this more beneficial to him in the long run.”
Gauai’s newfound sense of self-confidence has impressed his mother, who regards him mature young man. Zeila finds herself particularly buoyed by Gauai’s retention of culture and continued acknowledgement of his Indigenous heritage.
“I worried if a big city was going to deter him from his culture. But when he sent home a traditional art piece, I was so proud of the person he’s become,” Zeila said.
Gauai has gained a place at the Queensland University of Technology to study a double-degree, commencing in 2021. He hopes to use this degree, combined with his passion for leadership, to serve Australia’s Indigenous communities. Gauai finds himself alarmed by the disproportionate rate of Indigenous incarceration; he wants to be part of the solution.
“Even though we make up 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, Indigenous Australians make up a much higher percentage of the total prison population, which is pretty sad,” Gauai said.
Gauai hopes to work with incarcerated Indigenous youth and guide them toward stable options for their future. He credits much of this ambition, and his opportunities for study, to the values learned through participation in CYLP.
“I’ve learnt that a good leader is someone who always tries to do the right thing,” Gauai said. “Without CYLP I’m honestly not sure where I would be right now.”
The CYLP promotes empowerment above all else. It instills a high degree of self-determination within its students – a sentiment Gauai encapsulates perfectly.
“They’ve helped me open my eyes and understand the world a bit more. But sometimes I think I’ve gotten myself to where I want to be,” he said.