An education scholarship provider that helps Indigenous kids from rural areas attend the State’s top boarding schools will now boast football legend and Roelands Mission survivor Syd Jackson as its patron.

Jackson’s life is as inspiring as it is heartbreaking and the football legend has told the National Indigenous Times that education was the “number one step in Closing the Gap” across Australia.

MADALAH has helped provide Indigenous young people from remote and regional communities the opportunity of a quality education and employment- related training since 2009.

Its new patron was just a young boy when he was sent to the notorious Roelands Mission outside of Bunbury, an Aboriginal children’s home run by the Protestant church.

From 1938-73, it housed more than 500 forcibly removed Aboriginal children. Among those was Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt.

Jackson was taken in as a four-year-old boy in 1941 — snatched off the streets along with his two sisters as they were “going into town to get ice creams” in Leonora.

He never knew his real name (Syd Jackson was given to him), or his birthday. He never saw his mother again, and it was 30 years before he reconnected with his sisters.

Fierce competition for the footy among the mission kids fostered a prodigious talent in Syd. After leaving the mission at the required age of 16, he played for a local club team in South Bunbury, and was soon selected to play for East Perth in the WAFL.

Eventually, Ron Barassi relocated him to Melbourne, where he won two premierships playing for Carlton. In 2004, Syd heard from a group of ex-mission kids about the impending sale of Roelands Village which had remained in the possession of the church.

He joined 50-odd ex-mission kids as public ambassador in their protest at the sale and their efforts to reclaim it as Roelands Village by the Woolkabunning Kiaka Aboriginal Corporation.

The Village’s purpose now is to educate people on its history while offering opportunities in education, hospitality, health services, employment and housing for the community.

Despite the negative memories of his early days in the mission, Jackson now lives and works at Roelands Village.

Two retro cars that he keeps on the property symbolise his humble nature perfectly. Still impressively fit for a man who’s in his 70s, his small veranda features only a speedball and exercise equipment.

When sitting down this week with Syd to discuss MADALAH and his role within the  organisation, his passion for educating Indigenous youth was infectious.

“It used to be white kids at the front and black kids at the back,” he said, remembering how education used to be before not-for-profits like MADALAH.

Jackson devotes his time to his ambassadorial role with WKAC as well as creating opportunities for Aboriginal children and young people across Australia, including those with disability, to be supported in their health, education, training, employment and sports goals.

Jackson will be attending MADALAH events throughout the year and will speak to MADALAH students.

MADALAH said it was thrilled Jackson had joined and was eager to work with him in Closing the Gap.

By Che Wyatt & Hannah Cross