Guided with a love for her people, proud Yuggera woman Anita Singh has overcome barriers to live a life of love, passion and culture.
Growing up in Queensland, Ms Singh has a younger sister and older brother who were brought up by their single mother with the support of her Aunties, Uncles and her grandmother, who played a big part in Ms Singh becoming who she is.
Affected by the Stolen Generations, Ms Singh was never given constant or encouraging support within the classroom.
“I always went to school, I tried to go as much as I could. Growing up in Queensland, the racism is bad. Racism is bad wherever you are, but my experiences in my school life were disgusting,” she said.
“My third-grade teacher … she told me to go to the front of the class, she said, ‘Anita come here, are you Aboriginal?’ and I said yeah. And she goes, ‘I thought so’.”
“I didn’t understand what that meant, and when you think about it, I actually still don’t know what that really means?”
“She separated me from the rest of the class for the rest of that year as well, being grade three I didn’t quite understand I just thought I was special.”
“If I put my hand up, teachers never helped me, they distanced themselves from me, there were always little comments … that really hurt but I didn’t understand why that hurt.”
“When I reached grade seven, my teacher told me that because I’d finished grade three, Aboriginal people can’t be educated past grade three, I had to sit at the back of the class. I could no longer be educated.”
After finishing school, Ms Singh took a holiday to Victoria. Over a decade later, she’s still on that holiday and has spent most of her working life working within the welfare and social sector.
“It was my first holiday that I ever went on … I’m still on holiday because I haven’t gone home!” she laughed.
Completing her Certificate IV in Leadership and Management, Ms Singh found comfort returning to education as she was surrounded by a supportive and loving community. After finishing, Aunty Carol Harrison, Team Leader of Koorie Services from Melbourne Polytechnic pushed Ms Singh to take on a Diploma in Community Services at the institution.
“I was nervous, it was hard enough me doing it with mob, how would I be able to do it mainstream with all that negative and bad stuff I’ve already experienced,” Ms Sing said.
“Aunty Carol Harrison … she was the one that actually said, ‘No Anita, come on.’ Them Aunties they always pushing you to do better, she was the one that helped push me in and guided me.”
Last year, Melbourne Polytechnic awarded Ms Singh Indigenous Student of the Year.
Now working in the social and welfare sector across Victoria, Ms Singh hopes to provide a sense of support she was denied in her youth.
“I always had social welfare around constantly, I remember them being there every day through primary school and the first year of high school – coming to the school and questioning me. Asking how life is going, how is your mother, really trying to get something out of me and kept putting words in my mouth,” she said.
Ms Singh currently works with victims of the Stolen Generations.
“It is sad but rewarding, it is heart-breaking. Reading the records … this is what the Government wrote about our mob, there is a reason why there is so much transgenerational trauma, and all this trauma going on.”
“People don’t understand that when blackfellas are drinking or doing drugs, that is masking pain. They are masking something, you have people on those shows going on [about] ‘more blackfellas drinking in the park’, that kind of stuff.
“When you speak with mob and you have people who understand us blackfellas and have worked with us … but then you talk to other people and the racism is still there, it’s still so thick.”
Mother to a 16-year-old daughter, Ms Singh hopes she can inspire her daughter to strive to make a life she is proud of.
“My daughter has been my biggest drive; I just think if I didn’t do this and my daughter doesn’t see I can do it … then she won’t do it. And how can I push her to do it if I wouldn’t do it? I’m the first one in my family to finish grade 12, I’m the first in my family to get a diploma and now I’m the first one in my family to go to university.”
Ms Singh said that identifying someone who can walk with you through the tough time is important.
“Find someone that you can trust and you can talk to, find your Elders … you always take guidance from them, but even find someone bigger than you, even a couple of grades bigger than you that can give you that peer support,” she said.
“Moving to Melbourne was probably the best thing I did for myself and my daughter, I just think [about] growing up for this young one now, for it to be normal to be in the education system, being at university … having that positive life, it makes it easier to be positive.”
By Rachael Knowles