Naydia Dooley’s excitement to be returning to Pormpuraaw for the school holidays is almost palpable. It is a true homecoming for one of Cape York Girl Academy’s shining stars where the school is her home away from home. The young mum recently turned 18 and has not felt the Pormpuraaw sand between her toes for far too long. To add to this much-longed for moment, she is bringing 12-month-old daughter Thea home for her first visit on Country.
The deep significance of this journey home is not lost on the young woman, soon to be reunited with family and friends. Thea will be welcomed by family, with all the usual joy and excitement a new baby brings, but there will also be a vital cultural component, long overdue. The toddler will be blessed, welcomed, and protected by her uncles in traditional lore.
“My uncles will put their smell on her to welcome and protect her,” Naydia says. “This is a strong part of our culture. I’ve got such a big family back home. I feel nervous but I have so many mixed emotions, especially taking Thea back. My dad, nana, aunties, cousins and sisters will be meeting Thea for the first time.”
For the Wik Mungkan and Wadjigu girl from Pormpuraaw and Woorabinda, there has been a profound shift in the way she views the world these days compared to her younger years.
I am Thea’s mum I love her endlessly. She is my motivation to keep going through life. Being a mother has changed me a lot. Before this, I was running amuck. Thinking about what my future looked like back then, it wouldn’t be good. I used to fight all the time and get into trouble. I never had the responsibility of having to look after someone else before. Now, all my focus is on her and what she needs. It’s kept me away from all that other trouble. It’s a full-time job being a mum, they need you.
For the young mum, Thea’s happiness and wellbeing is paramount, as is her commitment to creating a full and happy life for her little family of two.
“She makes me happier than I’ve ever been and I’m so proud that I have her. She’s literally my everything. Sometimes I have hard times with her, and I’ll break down and cry, but I tell myself, I became this mum, it’s my job now. I remember being so worried about being a mum, but she’s completely changed me. Before Thea I was always stressed out about everything. I’m nicer now, and a lot calmer.
The senior student has boarded at Cape York Girl Academy since mid-2021 and describes the experience as challenging but rewarding. Located just north of Cairns at Wangetti Beach, Cape York Girl Academy is Australia’s first boarding high school designed for young Indigenous mothers and their babies to live and learn together, along with other young women who are at-risk of disengaging with their education.
Cape York Girl Academy gives chances to students unlike other schools and the school is non-judgemental about your past and that gives me the confidence and sense of belonging when other schools don’t to complete my education to the best of my ability.
Naydia says she can’t imagine being anywhere else, with the ability to mix a solid education in a supported environment that helps her spend quality time with her daughter.
“Thea loves it here. At first she wasn’t too sure because there are so many girls and people around. Then she started to get used to people and now she’ll go to everyone, she’s a very social girl. The other day she was yarning up to one of the girls in the way she does, the girls love having Thea around. They fight over who’s going to hold her. When I need a break they’ll take her straight away. I don’t feel worried because I know she’s safe with them and she knows them very well.”
Naydia says she is in the perfect space to parent Thea and learn at the same time, surrounded by the love and support of everyone around her.
I love being here, away from everything. The environment is calm, and everyone is friendly and the school is so supportive. If Thea has kept me up and I haven’t had a good sleep, they let me rest. They encourage you to get into class. I like being in class because the teachers make it fun. I can come up to the day care whenever I want to see Thea if I’m worried about her. I like all my classes and I love learning.
In the year that Thea has grown from a newborn baby into a separate little person with her own personality, so too has Naydia grown from a restless 17-year-old girl to an ambitious and loving 18-year-old mum. It’s hard to see Naydia as just another student who attends classes and stresses over homework when you hear her speak with the eloquence of a young leader with the world at her feet. In fact, Naydia has emerged as someone who stands solidly with two feet in both worlds, stepping effortlessly between the cultural ways of Pormpuraaw and the contemporary world. When Naydia returns to her hometown, it will be with a sense of familiarity of the old ways, the dirt roads and shell lined beaches of her youth.
“We live close to the beach and when you’re flying in that’s what you see first, front beach full of shells. There’s no red soil, only when we drive up the dirt roads but there’s plenty of red dirt right out of Pormpuraaw. We have these salt pens that are just big lakes of salt. And in my opinion, I believe we have the best sunsets in all of the Cape.
“There’s a lot of crocs around but they’re really calm. We don’t splash around in the water, and they feel calm around us. We know where to swim and can go waist deep into the rivers. Minh-pinch are crocodiles, and if your totem is the freshwater or saltwater croc, you will get strength from a croc’s tooth crushed up. The old medicine men can do this. If you have something big and important coming up, these cultural things can give you strength.
“If your totem is the goanna, and you eat the tail or leg, that’s going to make you go fast. My totems are the Brolga and Dingo. I’ve had a lot of spiritual connections and experiences with my totems. With the brolga, I always knew which one was my brolga. I would always see three brolgas together, and there would always be three brolgas waiting at the airport, and when we fly out those three brolgas leave.”
Naydia’s vision for her life is vastly different than it was only 12 months ago. With only one more year to go at Cape York Girl Academy, Naydia is looking forward to the next journey of her life with her daughter by her side.
“I really like working with children. I’m considering becoming a primary school teacher. I really want to inspire and help other young mums out there to get to school and encourage young girls to keep going for their dreams, to never give up.
“I was on a long-term order and I’m starting to come out of child safety now. So having Thea full-time is a really big thing for me. She’s very smart. I try to teach her things. She’ll be able to speak so many different languages. My biggest hope is just to have a good life with Thea and to always have her by my side. I just want to be happy and calm and give her the best life possible. I want to get a good job so I can give her things that I didn’t have when I was younger, but I want her to appreciate those things as well.”