ChangeCourse participant Rhett Burraston is the NSW/ACT young achiever of the year

Success stories, Indigenous Australia article written on the 15 May 2015

In 2012, Rhett Burraston was selected to participate in the ChangeCourse program — a program run by Oxfam that provides opportunities for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to proactively effect change within their communities.

Today, Rhett runs an after-school sports program in his hometown of Airds, which works with Aboriginal kids over the long-term, ensuring they are happy, healthy and have goals for the future. Most recently he was awarded the NSW/ACT Young Achiever of the Year.

By Jess Layt from The Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser.

If you ask Rhett Burraston what he has achieved in his 23 years, make sure you have a spare 20 minutes.

The Campbelltown born and raised youth worker was recently named the NSW/ACT Young Achiever of the Year, as well as the Santos Indigenous Achiever of the Year.

But the Airds resident is humble about his work, and lists his achievements as one might list the classes they took in high school.

‘‘The award organisers were trying to contact me because there was a chance for me to be recognised for the stuff that I do,’’ Mr Burraston said, matter-of-fact.

‘‘There was a process and some paperwork to fill out, then I got into the top ten for the Santos Indigenous Achiever Award, then I was a finalist.’’

Winning the Santos award and being crowned the overall Young Achiever of the Year was a surprise for former Elderslie High School student Mr Burraston, who said he was ‘‘not expecting it at all’’.

For his stellar work in the community, Mr Burraston took home $4000 from the awards, an iPad, an all-expenses-paid trip to Thailand and a professional development opportunity with June Dally Watkins (‘‘Mum knows who she is, I don’t,’’ he said).

Mr Burraston, who attended Bradbury Public School, will also become an ambassador for the awards next year.

‘‘I’ve been volunteering since I was 17 and I’ll be 24 soon,’’ Mr Burraston said.

‘‘I started in high school with volunteer work and had a lot to do with the Aboriginal community.’’

Mr Burraston currently works at the Rieby Juvenile Justice Centre as an Aboriginal Education Officer, and describes his job as more than just teaching culture.

‘‘It’s a hectic job, I’m always busy,’’ the young father said.

‘‘I try to be a role model for the kids, a mentor. If they need someone to talk to, I can do that as well.

‘‘I’ve had adversities in my life, but I’ve been fortunate compared to some people I know — I’ve seen what it can be like to go in and out of jail and detention and I didn’t want that for myself or for other people.’’

Mr Burraston’s partner, Leonie Patrick, said he was a deserving winner who was ‘‘very passionate about youth, his culture and his community’’.

‘‘He adores his job [at Reiby] and is a wonderful cultural role model for these young people in custody,’’ Ms Patrick said.

‘‘Rhett has also applied and received funding from Oxfam Australia to run a program [Tiana Tag] on a Thursday afternoon, teaching the kids who are on their way home from school to play Oz Tag and other games.’’

The proud indigenous local feels strongly about his culture and teaching other indigenous youths to embrace their heritage.

‘‘When you’re Aboriginal you have a responsibility to ensure that your culture survives in young people,’’ he told the Advertiser.

‘‘I’m a proud Aboriginal person trying to live my life up to that — I have an obligation to help my people out.’’

Despite all that he has achieved in the community, Mr Burraston said raising his two daughters was his greatest and proudest achievement.

‘‘Sienna-Estelle and Bianca are my two biggest achievements,’’ he said.

‘‘Being able to plait my little girls hair for school, and the fact that they are able to think of me at school and make something there to give me at home [is the greatest achievement].’’

Rhett Burraston’s community achievements

– NSW Youth Advisory Council member 2012, 2014

– Aboriginal youth worker for various non-government organisations

– Max Potential Leadership Program participant, 2012

– Congress Youth Forum (National Congress of Australia’s First People Party) participant, 2012

– Jobs Australia Foundation Indigenous Youth Leadership Program Kimberley cultural trek, 2011

– Jobs Australia Foundation Indigenous Youth Leadership Program Kokoda Trail walk, 2010

– Jobs Australia Foundations Program Development Committee member

– Campbelltown City Council school-based trainee, 2007-2009

– Tiana Tag program coordinator

– Oxfam Change Course participant

– Aboriginal Education Officer, Dorchester ETU, Reiby Juvenile Justice Centre

Republished with permission from The Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser.