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.
Tyreece Yeatman and Naz McLean are two young Indigenous men from Cairns and Hope Vale respectively. Through a CYLP scholarship opportunity, they attend the Brisbane Boys College private school and are completing their Year 10 studies. Both have been involved with CYLP since 2018. Tyreece presented himself as a natural leader and helped Naz to speak about his experiences with CYLP. Naz has noticeably grown and matured during his time at Brisbane Boys College – a sentiment shared by CYLP mentors, school staff and his peers.
Why did you choose to participate with CYLP?
Tyreece: Better opportunities. In Cairns we don’t have the same opportunities as we do here in Brisbane, so I found that CYLP would help me to build a better future.
Tell me about your experience with Brisbane Boys College.
Tyreece: My academic performance has improved since I made the move to Brisbane Boys College. After I came here, myself and other CYLP students all got certificates for academic improvement.
I’ve learnt that mathematics is my favourite subject. As soon as you understand everything with mathematics, it seems to make everything else easier to learn.
It takes a while to get used to the boarding situation, but after a while it will become like your second home. There are a lot of routines: waking up early, breakfast, correct uniform, study. Boarding school teaches you to be responsible for yourself.
Some of the non-Indigenous students here ask heaps of questions about our culture. They ask me about what I like to do when I go home. Some students also take an interest in knowing if I find it hard to be away from home. I tell them: “yes, but I’ve gotten used to it”. They also ask a lot about my language, and they want to know some traditional words.
Naz: Art, music and geography are my favourite subjects. I like to perform and to be creative.
When other students ask me about home, I tell them that it’s a nice place and how good the beaches are. I tell them about the traditional foods that we eat. I also tell them that we speak Guugu Yimithirr back home, but it’s difficult to teach them certain words.
What things do you enjoy about CYLP?
Tyreece: CYLP has matured me a lot. I’ve noticed that I’ve changed and become more responsible; I’ve changed from being a teenage boy to a young man.
I really love the camps that we go on at the start of the year. It gets us straight back into routine after the school holidays: waking up early, getting ready for bed, for example. When we go on the camps, the CYLP staff focus on teaching everyone to be a leader. Through activities like the talent show, camp gives you an opportunity to become more confident.
The mid-term events are great too, because all the CYLP students from Brisbane area come together and we find a little escape from the reality of schoolwork.
Naz: Making new friends has been the best part of being involved with CYLP. I have new brothers now: Tyreece, Mayila and Chasten. It’s fun to go to the beach with those boys; we go surfing and play sports at the beach.
Because of CYLP, I get to explore my creative talents. For example, I get access to music lessons, which has led to me performing at big music shows.
I want to teach other kids not to be shame. I want to show them that there are a lot of things out there for them to do and be.
What parts of the CYLP experience have been challenging?
Tyreece: Being away from home, definitely. You have to walk in a whole different world down here in Brisbane. When I go home, I get to relax and spend time with family. I like to spend lots of time in the outdoors. When I come back to Brisbane, I need to be ready to get back to work.
Naz: It’s just good to go back home in the holidays. I play my guitar or go spear fishing.
It’s been surprising to find all the different sporting opportunities down here too.
What leadership skills have you learnt whilst participating with CYLP?
Tyreece: To not be ashamed. If you are a leader, you have to get out there and say what you believe. You can’t hide and be ashamed. Being shame is holding back and not being proud of who you are. You can’t expect to lead people if you are shame.
What behaviours does a good leader display?
Tyreece: I have an older cousin who is from Yarrabah. He participated with CYLP and ended up graduating with a law degree from QUT. He is now looking after a young family and is living a good life back home. There aren’t many Aboriginal lawyers out there, so his achievements are pretty admirable. He’s a good example of a leader to me.
Naz: My nan is my role model. There are a lot of young fellas in community who are drinking and smoking; she didn’t want me to grow up doing those kinds of things. So, she made come on this program and get access to a good education, because she knows what is good for me. She’s a good leader.
What kind of leader do you want to be in the future?
Tyreece: I want to be someone that people in my community can look up to and ask for help or advice. I want to be there for people who are younger than me. I want to be a mentor and help them if they are struggling with their education.
Naz: I want to teach other kids not to be shame. I want to show them that there are a lot of things out there for them to do and be.
... I’d like to go to QUT and study to be a lawyer or a dentist. I’d like to work back in Cairns and see what opportunities exist there to help out my community.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received since being a part of CYLP?
Tyreece: My older brother told me: “you didn’t come down here for nothing; this is your destiny and where you are meant to be. You need to be dedicated and work on being the best version of yourself that you can be.” I’m just sticking by that motto now. When I find things hard, I think about that.
Naz: When I’m in class, sometimes I tell myself that I’m dumb. One of my teachers told me not to think that way, but to try my best and see what I can achieve.
Tell me about a social issue or a social cause that you care about.
Tyreece: People not getting enough help when they’re struggling, or people not taking the chance to receive help or look for help. Sometimes people do want help, but there’s nothing available for them to reach out to. Sometimes when people want to help, the person who is struggling doesn’t listen or want the help. Maybe the change will start with better education. Maybe we need to get more Aboriginal kids into educational opportunities like what we have here.
Naz: I want to see family members stop wasting their lives with alcohol, fighting, smoking and other bad behaviours. Fighting between families has to stop too. There needs to be more social help in remote communities. There needs to be more role models in community – someone who can tell families how to use their money properly and stop their kids from seeing bad examples.
What would you like to do once you have finished school?
Tyreece: I might have a gap year, but then I’d like to go to QUT and study to be a lawyer or a dentist. I’d like to work back in Cairns and see what opportunities exist there to help out my community.
Naz: I love singing and playing the guitar. My guitar is a Fender and it’s honey coloured. I’d like to become a performer and a music teacher. I’d like to go back to community and teach music to young girls and boys. Maybe if I can make it, I can tour around the country and maybe around the world too.