by Mayrah Sonter
Eight years ago, as his Australian representative rugby career was winding down, local Wyong Shire role model Matt Sonter pondered what to do next. Sensing a need amongst Indigenous youth on the Central Coast, Matt developed the Ngura program. ‘Ngura’, meaning ‘place’ in the local Darkinyung language, educates students about indigenous health, history and culture.
“Our kids live in a small community and it is important that they find their place, who they are and what’s expected of them,” Matt says.
“There are many barriers to success for our kids including not completing high school, struggling with Aboriginality and poor health,” he said. “These are the driving forces behind Ngura”.
The Ngura program is run over 7 to 10 weeks each term with one of the secondary colleges in the Wyong Shire. There are approximately 60 to 80 children who participate every year, each gaining qualifications including their Level 1 in Aboriginal History, Level 1 in Sport and Recreation and their Bronze medallion in life saving. Each week, the participants learn about Aboriginal health issues such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and drug and alcohol awareness, nutrition, leadership, self-image and maintaining pride in Aboriginality.
Amanda Munro, Head Teacher in Physical Development, Health and Physical Education at Tuggerah Lakes Secondary College, admires the leadership that the program develops in her students. “I think it is a great leadership program as it helps Aboriginal students articulate their goals and ways to achieve them,” she says.
Wyong Shire is one of the fastest growing Indigenous communities in the country, with Indigenous people making up 3.6 per cent of the shire’s population, higher than the national percentage of 2.5 per cent. Wyong Shire Council has joined with the Mingara Recreation Centre to support this growing population through the Ngura program.
Sarah DeGraaff, who works at the Ngura program, believes it benefits the whole community. “The kids in the uniform get recognised and I always get questions from staff and customers about indigenous history and contemporary indigenous issues. Ngura is really helping to start the conversation.”
Amanda agrees. “I think it is a good idea for a different teacher (to whom the students usually work with) to attend the program as it is educational for them as well,” she said. “It allows the staff to build relationships with parents and the community members involved.”
One of these local leaders is Ngura graduate Harley Short, who was selected to walk the Kokoda Trail.
“Ngura has helped motivate me and has helped me realise I can overcome any hurdles to be able to achieve my dreams,” Harley says.
Another Ngura success story is Trent Lake, who has gone on to be employed on the Ngura program. “Ngura program gave me the confidence to speak up for myself, get involved in community and be able to network more and not be afraid to ask for help,” he says.
Ngura parent, Gail Lake, believes the strength of the program is inspiring the kids to greater things. “A lot of our kids want to be professional footballers because that’s what they see,” she says. “But Ngura is exposing them to much more than that with graduates now doing electrical apprenticeships, university study and community roles.”
Dr John Evans, Senior Lecturer at Sydney University has been a guest at the Ngura program. “The Ngura program plays an important role in re-engaging kids that have been missing out,” he says. “It gets kids excited about learning again.”
According to Matt Sonter, “Ngura’s greatest legacy is that the kids feel empowered in their own community.”
“Ngura kids know that they aren’t just here to get an education, but to give one also,” he says.