Whether it’s through inconsiderate and controversial cartoons, or a plethora of reports and news articles focused on Indigenous parenting deficit, fatherhood in First Nations communities is becoming increasingly scrutinised and portrayed as lacking. Further, it seems that a meagre amount of light is being shone on positive examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fatherhood.
Enter Jacob Woibo, a proud Aboriginal dad of four children and a staunch believer in their rights to a valuable education. Jacob lives in Hope Vale, a Cape York community approximately an hour west of Cooktown, and routinely visits the local O-Hub for financial guidance. Back in 2016, after consulting with an O-Hub staff member, Jacob decided open Student Education Trust (SET) accounts for his three eldest children to help save money for their education. A year later, he opened another for his youngest.
SET is great because the finances have been available for me whenever I needed. This makes it less stressful as a parent to be able to pay for my kids’ education, which is really important to me and them.
Jacob’s eldest three children have been successful in gaining boarding scholarships with the Cape York Leaders Program, enabling them to attend reputable schools outside of Cape York. However, associated costs, such as uniforms and school excursions, can still be . This is where Jacob’s budgeting skills, assisted by SET, ensure that these expenses can be met with ease.
“SET has made it easy to allocate money for specific school costs, such as sports equipment,” he says
Male participation with the SET product in the four welfare-reform communities has grown over the last seven years. In Hope Vale, the proportion of total SET donors that are men has grown from 16% to 22% between 2014 and 2021. This shows that fathers, grandfathers and uncles in Hope Vale are becoming more involved in saving for their children’s education. For Jacob, he anticipates that SET could be a great help as his children move into their tertiary studies.
“My oldest is studying a sports and recreation VET course, and my next oldest wants to work in education. I’m thinking of looking into how SET can help pay for their education costs after high school, so they can achieve their goals,” he says.
“If you have strong fathers, you will have strong families, and if you have strong families, you will have strong communities.” That was the closing line of a 2018 study published by the American Journal of Men’s Health, titled ‘Fatherhood in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities’. The study identified several factors that are causing Indigenous Australian fathers to become ‘culturally unfamiliar’ with their role as a parent. These included: a lack of culturally appropriate health services; low self-esteem, caused by poor educational attainment; and, culturally important duties no longer being practiced due to a loss of cultural knowledge.
One particularly noteworthy cause identified by the study — raised in consultation with Indigenous men inside of remote communities — was positive paternal role models not being made apparent to new fathers. The consensus solution to this was encouraging men to share experiences of fatherhood with each other, whether it be in a group or one-on-one setting. Jacob has recommended the SET product to other members of his family. He has also spoken with people outside of his community about how SET can be beneficial for their children’s education.
“I told them that it will help out in the long term. I said that it’s a good thing for their children, and it will make being a parent a lot less stressful,” he says.