Caitlin Axelby is juggling studies with living out of home all while making it a priority to connect with her Aboriginal heritage.
She is passionate about helping young people overcome adversity.
A year 12 student at Hastings Secondary College Westport Campus, Caitlin has been on a journey to connect with her Aboriginal heritage in the face of people questioning why.
She is also rising through the school leadership ranks and has made it a personal mission to encourage young women to do their best.
Tell us about yourself and your journey to celebrate your Aboriginality?
Accepting my Aboriginal descent was never a thing. It was something I always knew that I had and something I had accepted since I was born.
Of course I faced challenges on my way to entirely accepting who I was, primarily because of my peers who would say "but you're white?" when I said I was Aboriginal.
For a long time comments like that offended me, but ultimately I knew it wasn't their fault because they weren't educated enough about my culture and what "half-caste" is. I know some people have problems with this term but that is what I have classed myself as because of my appearance.
That all Aboriginal people are poor, alcoholics, drug addicts who rely on Centrelink - that stigma is something that allows racism to be present to this day. I find this really disappointing for such an evolved country like Australia.Caitlin Axelby
Being Aboriginal does have its pros and cons. A great thing about the Aboriginal community is that you are accepted by those who share your culture no matter what. Anyone is a part of your mob and there are always events held to celebrate our culture and growing up that was empowering for me to see the whole community embracing our culture. For me it has created a sense of comfort that I didn't feel anywhere else - kind of like a second home.
Unfortunately there are cons. People do judge you based on my culture and have cultural assumptions that the government covers all our costs. That all Aboriginal people are poor, alcoholics, drug addicts who rely on Centrelink - that stigma is something that allows racism to be present to this day. I find this really disappointing for such an evolved country like Australia.
Why is it important that Aboriginal culture and language is taught and spoken about?
To educate people, young and old, who don't know about our culture, what it's about, what our traditions are and to try to deteriorate the stigma around the Aboriginal population. Learning about Aboriginal culture would show that we are an asset to the community and a vital part of any community as our elders have been here for centuries.
Our elders know the land and how to utilise it best and any Aboriginal elder would tell you it's definitely not building skyline apartments or mega shopping centres. Our connection to the land is about understanding the land and knowing it's needs as well as our own.
How do you connect with your past? How do your relatives help with that?
Unfortunately I don't have a lot of connection with my past. The only relative that has kept me involved and connected is my nan.
When I was younger she'd take me to festivals, indigenous events, NAIDOC celebrations and until I was older and reflected back on them, I never truly appreciated the experience and how valuable it was in influencing the person I am today.
My nan is one of my biggest supporters and she has supported me and pushed me to get an education. I am so thankful for her and for all her support.
What are your passions?
People, the world and anything in between.
I want to teach, I don't know what yet, but I want to improve how the next generation grow and are educated because the system we have now is catered to the past. The next generation had modern technology from infancy and to enable the best level of success in education the system needs to be catered the next generations to come, not to the ones already gone.
The environment is also a big passion of mine and it scares me how much a large majority don't care or don't acknowledge what's wrong with the world itself. It is also scary how much damage we are doing every minute of every day.
It's really concerning especially with the younger years who have lost any sense of compassion, thoughtfulness or even just morals
What does leadership look like to you?
Leadership to me is being a role model for younger people to look up to, whether it's for advice, how to act or how to approach different situations. I am passionate about helping others and at school I try and to mentor younger students to do their best.
What are you hopeful for?
I'm hopeful for many things. Personally I'm hopeful to do well in the HSC and get a good ATAR so I can do the uni courses I would like.
For the world, I am hopeful that current world help organisations are doing what they can to protect and preserve the world. I am hopeful that we learn to become more sustainable so that we can protect and preserve our environment.
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