The Cape York Leaders Program, or CYLP, provides Cape York youth with opportunities for secondary and tertiary education. It also enhances their innate leadership qualities and equips them with the skills needed to return to their communities, as young adults, who can bring about meaningful change. Within CYLP is the Academic Leaders initiative, which pairs motivated Indigenous students with scholarships to reputable secondary schools and universities. Maintaining strong connections to culture, family and home communities is an integral component of the initiative, as is forging new friendships and opportunities for mentorship. The students have diverse perspectives, ambitions, and values. Our ‘Emerging First Nations Leaders’ series gives a space and a platform for their voices.
Mayila Mallie and Chasten Yeatman are two young Indigenous men from Cairns. Through a CYLP scholarship opportunity, they attend the Brisbane Boys College private school and are completing their Year 11 studies. Chasten has participated with CYLP since 2017, and Mayila since 2019. Both present as confident and driven, and they demonstrate lot of care for their peers, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Why did you choose to participate with CYLP?
Mayila: The help and assistance with my schoolwork that I get in Brisbane is far better than what I can get in Cairns. After dinner at this school, I can get access to an OP1 tutor who will help me with my studies. That kind of support was very hard to find in Cairns.
Tell me about your experience with Brisbane Boys College.
Mayila: Since I’ve been at Brisbane Boys College, my motivation for schooling and academic performance has improved a lot. English is my favourite subject and it’s where I get my best grades. We’re studying imaginative writing and poetic analysis at the moment, and we have to create our own stories in our assessments.
Chasten: Boarding school has taught me how to prioritise things. You have a lot of competing priorities, and you need to learn how to juggle them on a daily and weekly basis.
Economics is my favourite subject. I find it interesting to learn about markets and economies. I’d like to get into business once I've finished school.
There’s a school trip called Red Earth, which gives non-Indigenous students the opportunity to visit Indigenous communities in remote parts of Australia. When they return from that trip, they usually ask me a lot of questions about Indigenous culture.
Mayila: Those students get to learn about the Indigenous stories that get passed on from generation to generation. They learn about our history too.
Please tell me about the stories behind the traditional artworks that you have created.
Mayila: All three canvases are about progressing through the schooling journey: junior school, middle school and senior school. The sky, land and water in our country also influenced this artwork. In each artwork is a trail, which represents moving through a phase of schooling. We also involved the other students to participate in the art project, and they got to add their own dot to the painting.
What things do you enjoy about CYLP?
Mayila: CYLP has broadened my horizons – opened my eyes to the world of opportunities outside of Cairns. When I grew up, I just accepted that my options were limited. Being here in Brisbane has made me aware of all the different possibilities. I can go to different universities; I could go to TAFE – it just opens so many different doors.
Chasten: The mid-term events are great; they are a refreshing break and give us a chance to come together with other CYLP students from Brisbane and reflect on what we’ve been up to.
This program that we are on gives us a chance to help out the black fella community – help our people and our communities. Through the knowledge and opportunities that we gain as a part of this program, we have the power to make real change.
What parts of the CYLP experience have been surprising?
Mayila: Living in two different worlds. Living between a big city and your hometown can be a bit of a shock. When I go home, I find that I sleep a lot because it’s time to relax.
Here in Brisbane, we are exposed to a lot more people who could be our role models. We’ve also met some sports stars too; they come to school and coach us.
Chasten: The people that you get to meet are different to what you expect. People down here in Brisbane aren’t all rich like you think they are. Many people live simple lifestyles.
Within this school there’s different worlds: people who come from wealth and live in the city and people who come from humble origins and are just trying to get the best possible education.
What leadership skills have you learnt whilst participating with CYLP?
Mayila: To be a role model and take younger kids under your wing, especially Indigenous kids. I've also learnt to get out of my comfort zone.
Chasten: I’ve definitely learnt how to be a role model for everyone that you meet. If you act as a leader, people will respect you and look up to you, even if they don’t tell you that they’re doing that.
I want to show people that anything is possible when you’re determined and put your mind to something. That’s the role model I want to be.
What behaviours does a good leader display?
Mayila: My mum is my role model. She has very tough skin, she is very independent, and she is very responsible. She’s also the strongest woman that I know. She has helped me grow up and put everything in place for me whilst looking after my younger siblings. I want to be as strong as her.
Chasten: A good example is my dad. He left home when he was really young, and he didn’t grow up with a dad. He learnt how to become independent, made it big in rugby league and also went to university. Now everyone in our community looks up to him. I want to be someone like that.
What kind of leader do you want to be in the future?
Mayila: I don’t want to be known as a guy who has money or status. I want people to know me as a guy who works hard and gets things done. I want to show people that anything is possible when you’re determined and put your mind to something. That’s the role model I want to be.
Chasten: I want to steer people from community in the right direction and stop them from getting caught in the cycle of partying, drinking, or getting involved with drugs. You don’t want to set that bad example for the Indigenous community. I don’t want people thinking that Aboriginal people are people who smoke and drink and do dumb stuff. I want to finish school, go to uni and set the right example. That’s why my parents sent me here; they knew I had potential.
What is the best piece of advice that you have received since being a part of CYLP?
Mayila: My mum told me: “these next five years of your life set you up for the next seventy years”. To have this kind of chance can equal a life of freedom.
Chasten: If you have the chance to come to a school like this, take it. It’s the best opportunity you will ever get. A good education leads to a better life in general – more job opportunities, for example.
I’d like to go to Bond university, which is where my older sister studies, and study business majoring in project management.
Tell me about a social issue or a social cause that you care about.
Mayila: Black people in custody and black deaths in custody. I had a grandfather who died in custody and that had a big impact on me. When I went to the Black Lives Matter rally in Cairns, I was touched by the subject. I want to see this reality change and see better outcomes for Aboriginal people.
Chasten: I want to change the issue of Indigenous people getting caught in negative cycles. I’ve lost family members because of alcohol. Heavy drinking in Aboriginal communities just has to stop.
What would you like to do once you have finished school?
Mayila: I’d like to be a sports physician or even a sports teacher. At the end of the day, I just want to help people who experience injuries during sport. I will go to uni and then come back to Cairns to find a job.
Chasten: I’d like to go to Bond university, which is where my older sister studies, and study business majoring in project management. I’m already enrolled in a Cert III qualification that will help me gain entry into a program like that. My parents have told me to go and explore the world and find the opportunities that exist out there.