Five years ago, at the age of 50, Frederick Leftwich made a life-changing decision to leave his job of 27 years in the public service and return to study at university.
It was a bold move that has paid off for the Butchulla, Kuku Yalanji and Doomadgee man and University of Canberra graduate who later this month will travel to London to take up a one year scholarship at one of the world’s leading universities, the London School of Economics, where he will study human rights.
Mr Leftwich, 55, of Canberra, is one of six Indigenous Australians to receive Charlie Perkins and Roberta Sykes scholarships worth more than a total of $500,000 to study at either the London School of Economics, Oxford, Cambridge, or the Royal College of Art.
British High Commissioner to Australia, Menna Rawlings, presented the scholarships — designed to support Indigenous Australians who have the potential to become leaders in their fields — in Canberra this month.
Mr Leftwich, a recipient of a Roberta Sykes scholarship, said he hasn’t looked back since his decision to do a Bachelor of Social Sciences in Indigenous Studies at the University of Canberra — and would encourage other mature age people to follow their dreams.
He said faced with discriminationin the public service, he decided to walk away and try something new.
“It was quite frightening to walk away from something after 30 years because I didn’t know what the future held,” he said.
“I knew I didn’t belong in the public service.”
“It was scary, going back to uni, but in the first year I realised I knew more than what some of the young kids did, which was reassuring. It was a big opportunity that turned out well for me in the end.”
The other scholars to receive Roberta Sykes scholarships are Monash University graduate Jarrod Hughes, University of Queensland graduate Jordan English and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology graduate Michael McMahon.
The Charlie Perkins scholarships went to Australian National University and University of Southern Queensland graduate Casey Millward and University of Sydney graduate, lawyer Geoffrey Winters.
Aurora Education Foundation chief executive officer Richard Potok, who is also director of the Charlie Perkins Scholarship Trust and the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation, said seven years ago there had never been an Indigenous Australian studying for a full-time degree at either Oxford or Cambridge.
He said thanks to the scholarships and the Australian and British governments there have now been 40 Indigenous postgraduates accepted to the universities.
“We are incredibly proud of this year’s recipients, whose hard work and dedication to academic excellence is a testament to the pioneering founders of these Scholarships,” he said.
For Mr Leftwich, who is originally from Cairns, London presents an exciting challenge.
He said he would make the most of his time at the London School of Economics where he will study for a Master of Science in human rights.
He will complete his dissertation on shared sovereignty.
“I’ll be studying human rights,” Mr Leftwich said. “And for the topic, and you pick your own topic, I’m going to critique the recommendations from the current joint select committee on constitutional recognition for Indigenous people.”
By Wendy Caccetta