On a cold, dry morning in June, 20 year nine Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women gathered in Darwin and were welcomed to Country by Larrakia Elder, Lynette Fejo and the Garramilla Dancers. They travelled from all over the Northern Territory to be part of the first regional STEM camp in 2022 for the Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy.
Learning on Country
During the STEM camp, the young women ventured on a bush tucker and fire management tour in Kakadu National Park. Traditional Custodian and ranger, Jacqueline Cahill, guided them, and shared so much cultural knowledge. Jacqueline showed them the Kakadu Plum tree and how to make string from a Cycad leaf. She also discussed the importance of regeneration of the land through cultural burning.
They learnt that Mirarr and Bininj people sourced and created housing materials, weapons and baskets from the land. Jacqueline spoke about the seasons and what bush foods grew in each. She also demonstrated the impact of feral animals and the work rangers do to protect the natural habitat and care for Country.
Then Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) Rock beckoned. The Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy had their first glimpse of the Anbangbang Billabong. They visited the main gallery of rock art which is home to some of the oldest paintings in the world. They learnt about the lightning man, Namarrkon, and saw depictions of the first contact with European sailing ships.
Next they made their way up to the Kunwarddewardde Lookout. The young women heard the helmeted friar birds call out. Then they soaked in the breathtaking views that went for miles. For many of them, being on Country and walking along the tracks of Nourlangie brought a connection to Country and their cultural identity.
During the STEM camp, the students met some of our scientists. They toured the ant laboratory which has the largest collection of ants in the world. The students also went on an interactive tour of Menzies School of Health. There they heard career pathway stories from Indigenous staff and students. This really resonated with the young women. And they enjoyed furthering those conversations while they tested for germs, developed glow in the dark DNA and looked at skin under a microscopic lens.
It was the best day of my life. I always thought I wanted to be a diesel mechanic but after hearing this presentation, I know I want to study medicine. I’ve already Googled what I need to do and the subjects I need to take.STEM camp participant
The students met Indigenous science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) professionals as well as industry partners Kinetic IT, INPEX, the Defence Force Recruitment and Robotics team and Rio Tinto.
The Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy camp was an opportunity for these young women to meet other like-minded students. It also allowed space to instil confidence in themselves and their futures.
There is nothing more beautiful than to watch these young women grow throughout the STEM camp and realise that there is a great big world out there full of opportunities. They’ve learnt from those studying and working in STEM professions that it is what you do with these opportunities that will make a difference and change outcomes for our people and our community. Most of the students voiced that they would like to give back to their community, which demonstrates the maturity of this year nine cohort.Dak Djerait woman and NT Academic Coordinator, Melissa Tipo
To close the STEM camp the campers weaved, participated in cultural dance, and were blessed by a final smoking ceremony. Family and friends joined the young women in final presentations, dinner and goodbyes.
Friendships were formed and memories created for these young Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. Now they will support each other as they walk their own paths toward university and a career in STEM.
Upcoming Young Indigenous Women’s STEM Academy camps will be held in other regions across Australia.