Heather Woolla is a kind and considerate woman, whose love for her family is undeniable. She originally hails from Aurukun, and has experienced acute hardship at various moments in her life. In 1998, she was 16 years old when she gave birth to the first of her seven children, Katelyn. Unfortunately, Heather began the journey of parenthood without support from a partner.
“It was a very hard time for me when Katelyn was going to boarding school. I remember saying to my mum, ‘This is ridiculous, all of our money goes to Katelyn’s accommodation, tuition and uniforms. But we have no money left for anything else.’”
Heather’s expression was slightly tense as she spoke about her life before 2008. However, she relaxes into a smile upon recalling the moment Student Education Trust (SET)—a locked savings account that allows families to save specifically for their child’s education—arrived in Aurukun. “I was working at the parenting centre, and a client said to me, ‘Aunty, have you heard about this SET that just came into community?’ So I went to ask about it, and see if it would cover my children’s extra-curricular activities. She told me it would cover everything to do with my children’s education. So, I signed up three of my children immediately.”
Life took an unexpected turn. When Mareja—Heather’s third oldest child—was a year old, she began to experience respiratory health complications. Her condition went undiagnosed for two years, even with regular trips to the Cairns Hospital whenever her health deteriorated. “When Mareja was three years old, we travelled to Brisbane for health tests. The doctor there finally told us what her condition was. It was bronchitis. The doctor told me that Mareja would have this condition for her whole life, and that I should move to Cairns for the sake of her health.”
I have seen so many children’s dreams come true because their parents got SET early ... Thank God SET came to Aurukun.
When Heather and her family relocated to Cairns, she was worried that SET would no longer be available to her, as she now lived outside of Aurukun. CYP staff confirmed that she could still access SET support. “I was so relieved,” she says. “When we moved, I gathered my daughters together and showed them what saving $20 a fortnight for their education had achieved. The first thing we did was buy new school shoes.”
From that moment, Heather’s daughters have taken an equal interest in their mother’s wellbeing as she takes in theirs. They often praise Heather for her unwavering commitment to their futures, consistently calling her a ‘great mum’. The oldest three—Mareja, Olivia and Irene recently asked their mum if they could enroll at Cape York Girl Academy as boarders. “They told me ‘Mum, you are not an octopus with eight arms. We can look after ourselves for now, so you can take care of the young ones,’” says Heather.
Life is now more on track for Heather Woolla and her family. She does not hesitate to credit SET as a monumental factor in that change. “I have seen so many children’s dreams come true because their parents got SET early. Without it, our lives would have been hard. My daughters would not have the same opportunities. Thank God SET came to Aurukun."
Keen to read more stories like Heather's?
There are more available in the latest copy of the Cape York Partnership's Family Empowerment Report.