EXCLUSIVE – Indian and Indigenous cultures merge as First Nations students experience ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’

"First Nations people are the real owners of Australia", says Prof. Mukti Kanta Mishra, President of Centurion University that conceptualised the 'Wadeye Training Project'.

By Pallavi Jain and Amit Sarwal

In what can described as a wonderful example of Australia and India ties, five Indigenous Australian students recently went to study at a University in India.

The students who are from Wadeye in Northern Territory went to study at Centurion University in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha.

- Advertisement -
Image: Indigenous Australian students in India (Source: Supplied)

The five students Geeradine Bunduck, Veronica Mary Munar, Mary MC Killop Munar, Amaya Francine Chula, and traditional owner Margaret Rose Perdjert were part of the “WADEYE Training Project” a six-month training project organized by Centurion University of Technology and Management to impart the technical skills required in apparel manufacturing like cutting of cloth, colour printing, surface ornamentation, among others for the participants, who are First Nations members of the WADEYE Community in Australia.

The students recently graduated from the University after completing their programme which is perhaps the first of its kind programme for both India and Australia.

Image: (L to R) Amaya Francine Chula, Veronica Mary Munar, Geeradine Bunduck, and Mary MC Killop Munar (Source: Supplied)

This skill training program is designed to give the participants the required technical knowledge and skills to independently manufacture all types of garments.

Image: (L to R) Mary MC Killop Munar, Geeradine Bunduck, Veronica Mary Munar and Amaya Francine Chula with project coordinator Priyambada Mallick (center) (Source: Supplied)

The aim and outcome of this program was to produce confident and capable apparel manufacturing masters who could gain suitable employment, become micro-entrepreneurs, develop the skills to train others, creating a ripple effect in their community at Wadeye.

Image: Indigenous students at Jarrachhara exhibition in Delhi, India, showcasing Indigenous Australian textiles (Source: Supplied)

Along with economic empowerment, this program is also expected to influence the trainee’s thinking and behaviour, improving self-esteem and making them proud of their ability to be productive citizens. Besides, the skills and abilities acquired, they would also learn and understand about Indian culture and lifestyle.

Image: Traditional owner Margaret Perdjert and Indigenous students attending a wedding in India along with project coordinator Priyambada Mallick standing next to the bride (Source: Supplied)
Image: Margaret, Mary, Geeradine and Amaya wearing Indian attire (Source: Supplied)
Image: Mary, Geeradine, Veronica and Amaya with Eve Riikonen from Thamarrurr Youth Indigenous Corporation and manager of this project in Australia, enjoying Odia cuisine at Sumita and Niranjan Mohapatra’s home in India (Source: Supplied)
Image: Indigenous students visiting tribal villages of Nilgiri, Baligohiri, Balasore in India (Source: Supplied)

- Advertisement -

The five students hail from Wadeye, which is located 420km south-west from Darwin and it is one of the largest Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

“I grew up in Wadeye and went to boarding school there. After school I have lived and worked in Bright (VIC), where I completed a work readiness program with Thamarrurr Youth Indigenous Corporation (TYIC) and then found employment at the local laundromat”, says 21-years old Gerradine Bunduck 

Image: Geeradine Bunduck at Jarrachhara exhibition in Delhi showcasing Indigenous Australian textiles (Source: Supplied)

“Now I’m pursuing my interest of fashion, design and photography. I have learned a lot about textiles manufacturing and design here in Aussie Fashion at Centurion University and I’m looking forward to taking these skills and life lessons back to my community. I’m proud of myself and I know that my family is proud of me too. I hope to start my own little enterprise back in Wadeye when I return and sell things that I design and create.”

Image: Geeradine Bunduck at Centurion University (Source: Supplied)

Veronica Munar is 22-years old and grew up in Wadeye.

“At the age of 15 I moved down to Bright (VIC) to take a part in Thamarrurr Youth’s school program. I lived at a girls boarding house facilitated by TYIC and attended school nearby at Bright P-12 college. I proudly graduated Year 12 in 2021 in Bright.” 

“I have learned a lot about myself, textiles manufacturing skills and Indian culture whilst living and studying abroad at Centurion University. I will never forget my time here and I know I will be using all the skills learned here in my future jobs.”

Image: Veronica Mary Munar in Bhubaneshwar, India (Source: Supplied)

Mary MC Killop Munar is 25-years old and liked engaging in activities at the local Youth Centre.

“I got an opportunity to live in Bright and complete TYIC’s work readiness program and study certificates in hospitality. Afterward, I moved back to Wadeye and I have been working at the Youth Center cafe ever since.”

Image: Mary MC Killop Munar with Veronica Mary Munar in India (Source: Supplied)

“Last year I got an opportunity to take part in a new program with Thamarrurr Youth and Centurion University. This program has taught me a lot of new skills and I’m grateful to have gotten the opportunity to study here.”

Image: Mary MC Killop Munar in India (Source: Supplied)

“I look forward going back home to Wadeye after our graduation in June and continuing working there. I would like to share the knowledge I have gained here and teach other young people that come through the Youth Centre”, says Mary.

Amaya Francine Chula is 20-years old and was born in a remote community called Nauiyu which is situated on the banks of the Daily River. She and her family later moved to Wadeye, where a lot of her mother’s side of the family lives.

“I have been a part of Thamarrurr Youth’s school program since 2015 and graduated Year 12 from Bright P-12 last year. Since then I have been accepted to the University of Tasmania to study marine biology.”

Image: Amaya Francine Chula (Source: Supplied)

“After graduating, I wanted to take a year off and take a part in Thamarrurr Youth’s study program at Centurion University in India. I have always loved art and expressing myself with art. It’s a big part of my culture. I didn’t know much about textiles before coming here but I have learned so much.”

Image: Amaya happy to see her grandmother’s name (Janet Marawarr) being mentioned at the Jarrachhara exhibition in Delhi showcasing Indigenous Australian textiles (Source: Supplied)

“I know I will be using these skills throughout my life and most importantly open doors and be a strong role model for other youth and young adults. I want to show that you can also pursue your dreams and study a degree and travel overseas.”

Image: Amaya Francine Chula at Centurion University (Source: Supplied)

Amaya further adds, “I look forward to returning back to Wadeye after our graduation in June and share more of my experience there. I would love to be part of the textiles enterprise created in Wadeye after this program even when I live in Tasmania.”

Margaret Rose Perdjert is 61-years old, a traditional owner of Wadeye and a proud Kardu Diminin woman.

“My home Wadeye is located 420km South-West from Darwin and it is of the largest Indigenous communities in the NT with a population of approximately 4,000.”

Image: Traditional owner Margaret Rose Perdjert in India (Source: Supplied)

“This project with Thamarrurr Youth and Centurion has been my dream for a long time. I first visited India back in 2016 and again in 2017. We mapped out a program with TYIC and Centurion University that would offer opportunities and skills development to people from Wadeye the way no place else would. I believe that this program will benefit the whole of Wadeye community and it’s future generations.”

Image: Traditional owner Margaret Rose Perdjert with students at Jarrachhara exhibition in Delhi showcasing Indigenous Australian textiles (Source: Supplied)

“It has been amazing to see this come to life and our first cohort graduates in June. I have loved being part of the first cohort, learning new skills and experience India and it’s beautiful and colourful culture. I look forward to seeing this program grow in the future and the study opportunities it will bring to other young adults in Wadeye. I’m excited to return to Wadeye in June, after our graduation and starting our first textile business there.” 

Image: Margaret Perdjert and Veronica Munar enjoying a night out in India (Source: Supplied)

In an exclusive interview, while studying in India, the First Nations students told Pallavi Jain that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they will encourage others in their community to also come and study in India.

They also added that it was important to learn about each other’s cultures and that they loved to learn about Indian culture.

Students with Vice-Chancellor of Centurion University Prof. Supriya Pattanayak

The Australia Today also reached out to the Vice-Chancellor of Centurian University Prof. Supriya Pattanayak who told Pallavi Jain that she wants to see the students apply and utilise their training in their realities and use what they have learned in India to engage with work in their communities in Australia.

Founder and President of Centurion University, Prof. Mukti Kanta Mishra, believes that grassroots level engagement between communities is important for deepening bilateral ties and that he is very proud of this project.

He also said during the interview that First Nations people are the real owners of Australia.

President of Centurion University Prof. Mukti Kanta Mishra’s visit to Wadeye for this project.

Swagatika Mohapatra, Deputy Managing Director, Gram Tarang Employability Training Services which is the social outreach of Centurion University and Rebecca Crawley, Director of Thamarrurr Youth Indigenous Corporation were also involved in getting this project to fruition.

Swagatika, who is the Project Leader for the Wadeye project told us that the Wadeye community members are really proud of their daughters that they have taken the lead to travel overseas to undertake this training.

Education Minister Jason Clare and his Indian counterpart Dharmendra Pradhan had met with the Indigenous students from Wadeye when Mr Clare visited India in March this year.

Image: Indigenous students with Australian and Indian Education Ministers Jason Clare and Dharmendra Pradhan along with President of Centurion University Prof. Mukti Kanta Mishra (Source: Supplied)
Image: Gift from the students to Education Ministers of both Australia and India (Source: Supplied)
Image: Education Minister Jason Clare speaking with the students (Source: Supplied)

All the stakeholders involved in this training project hope that it will make a tangible difference to the lives of First Nations people and will enable to further deepen ties between Australia and India.

Image: Veronica, Geeradine and Amaya at their graduation at Centurion University with Eve Riikonen, manager of this project in Australia (Source: Supplied)
Image: Veronica, Margaret, Amaya, Veronica and Mary in their uniform along with their kits (Source: Supplied)
Image: Geeradine Bunduck at Centurion University (Source: Supplied)
Image: Students participating in the basketball competition (Source: Supplied)
Image: Mary, Veronica, Geeradine and Amaya with Dr Swetalina Mishra who was anchoring the ceremony at the completion of their course (Source: Supplied)