Nunga Rugby


Story Details

In recent years, South Australia's Aboriginal youth have been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

But here's one group determined to turn their lives around, and they're kicking goals in more ways than one.

Youth worker Tui Leleisiuao runs a program for the Catholic welfare agency Centacare, aimed at young Aboriginal people at risk of becoming homeless.

One of its key aims is to keep young people at school.

"The young fellas I've been working with, I can honestly say it's been a pleasure. And they're beautiful people," he says.

"We're seeing a lot more Aboriginal kids stay at school. We're seeing a lot more kids go into higher levels of school. One of my passionate goals is to see a lot more of our Aboriginal kids graduate from year 12 and complete their SACE."

Emanuel Ellis is 17, and wants to become a pilot. He's into sport, and determined to finish year 12.

"I'd like to become a pilot when I get older, mainly join the air force," he says. "I want to fly C17s and all that kind of stuff."

Tui says: "he's a young man that's about to complete his SACE at senior level, has a goal of becoming the first Aboriginal pilot, which I really believe he's going to be."

But this time last year, it was a different story for Emanuel and his grandmother, Paulene Defilippo.

"Well, I'd just retired and had all my life planned, with what I was going to do and the two boys came to live with me, and we both found it difficult and clashing a lot," Paulene says.

"Emanuel was very angry about a lot of stuff and so there was damage around the house."

Emanuel says: "me and my grandma, we were clashing, and having arguments and there was just problems at home."

Emanuel then met Tui, and got involved in a program, called Student Matters.

"He just taught me to think about how I went about when I was feeling angry. Just to think about consequences if you do make those mistakes. Yelling around� it just causes problems in the house."

Tui says: "it's about potential pathways to careers, making livings, being positive, being motivated and being encouraged."

The indigenous program run through Centacare features leadership training, mentoring and team-building through sport. But instead of the Aussie rules you'd normally expect, these young fellas are playing a different brand of footy.

Tui says: "I come from a country that sees rugby as a religion. But rugby in itself,
any sport, soccer, AFL, it's about camaraderie, it's about playing as a team, it's about discipline and rules. It's also about an identity and it's about bonding."

Emanuel says: "[it's great] just to get everyone out, just to see each other, to see the culture and see how the indigenous students are able to congregate with each other."

More importantly, the students learn to apply what they've learned on the field, to other areas of their lives.

Paulene says even though Emanuel really loves football he's decided to concentrate on year 12, and so has chosen activities that wouldn't impact too much on his studies such as air cadets and surf lifesaving.

And she says Student Matters has been a lifesaver for her, too.

"I needed someone to talk to because I was by myself with the two boys at the time, and I was finding it very difficult. I'm not sure where the boys would have been if they hadn't stayed here. With Tui keeping it together has meant the rest of the family have kept together as well."

So far, more than 200 kids have taken part in the indigenous Student Matters program, including those from seven schools across Adelaide taking part in an annual touch rugby tournament.

It seems to be working.

Tui says: "it's about developing a trust. It's about developing a rapport, engaging with that young person and engaging with that young person's family."

But it will soon be game over for the student matters.

Its funding through the state's social inclusion unit runs out on the first of June.

Centacare chief Dale West says the program's axing will mean losing that trust that staff have worked so hard to gain� and starting another program somewhere else would be a waste.

"When you look at the issues around indigenous communities in South Australia,
and, indeed, around Australia and the sort of money that's put in there you'd be disappointed to think that we might lose something that's so constructive," he says.

Meanwhile, Tui continues to motivate his young charges: "all it is, is I'm really reminding these fellas, dream those dreams. Don't be afraid to dream those dreams because those dreams are possible."

Emanuel says: "it would be a really big mistake if the program was shut down, because there are those kids out there that are struggling through school and at home and I'd just like help for them, especially the indigenous students.

"Take it from me it does help. It does."