A journey to connection
A career in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander development wasn’t always at the forefront of Tarsha’s mind. Growing up in Moree, Tarsha wasn’t told about her own Aboriginal heritage until her mother began digging into their family history many years later.
“I grew up in a black community as a white person, not knowing that I identified as Aboriginal. It turned out that everybody knew we were Aboriginal, except for us. And to this day, I’m still not allowed to talk about my heritage in front of a lot of my family. It’s hard - even my grandmother wouldn’t identify as Aboriginal due to her own trauma. But I’m raising my kids to be proud of who they are.”
Tarsha reflects upon the challenges that came with growing up and being denied her culture.
“I faced racism growing up. The Aboriginal community never judged us, but the white side of the community were very judgmental and very racist. They’d call me names, and I didn’t know why.”
Her inner strength continues to shine when she explains the personal hurdles she has faced and overcome throughout her life.
“Sometimes life can be hard. I’ve experienced domestic violence. My father and brother both suffered traumatic brain injuries - and as a result my brother also battled addiction for 25 years. After I finished school, community development was not on my radar. I wanted to be a fashion designer. But due to my brother’s complex needs, I worked in the family business to help my parents. Although we are back together now, I eventually found myself as a single mum of four and no one would employ me because I hadn’t worked in almost six years - I came to a crossroads. So, I decided to study.”
A drive to work alongside people with similar experiences to her own pushed Tarsha to study a Diploma of Child, Youth, and Family Intervention at TAFE Queensland. After finishing her studies and exploring other roles in community development, Tarsha set her sights on a position with The Benevolent Society.
“Once I got into The Benevolent Society and I saw how happy they were to walk alongside me, it gave me the get-up-and-go to take on this identified role and make it truly meaningful.’’
Growth in leaps and bounds
Fast forward to today and Tarsha has achieved incredible things. The duties and accomplishments in her average work week stretch from the grand and groundbreaking, to the intimate and personal. Working in partnership with the NDIS in Early Childhood Intervention, Tarsha engages directly with families and children every day. From performing community outreach, to assisting in meetings with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, Tarsha works to ensure every family is heard by someone who understands their story.
As one of the few identified workers across Brisbane and its surrounds, Tarsha has also taken on some of the larger tasks at hand. She has co-facilitated cultural training workshops, and worked personally to build relationships with the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH), an essential service for many of her participants.
“The Benevolent Society is not an Indigenous-run organisation, so originally IUIH kept shutting the door on us. I worked really hard on building a relationship with the IUIH team to alleviate any barriers that would stop families accessing NDIS. It’s mindblowing how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids have gained access to NDIS support since the pathways started.”
We walk alongside you
Tarsha notes that despite its challenges, 2020 was a standout year. It also marked a special point in her career. During Child Protection Week, Tarsha performed the Acknowledgement to Country with the local mayor.
“I was given the opportunity to represent my culture and connect with our community. To be acknowledged and accepted as a proud Aboriginal woman is something that really matters to me.”
When we asked Tarsha about other significant moments that have influenced her career, she’s quick to acknowledge the role of her manager, Karina, and the team at The Benevolent Society. Her journey towards embracing her identity as an Aboriginal person in her career has been deeply impacted by both.
“Under different management, it could have gone a totally different way. The Benevolent Society really tries to understand past policies and what has gone on for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
But there is always more work to do moving forward. Tarsha emphasises the importance of having more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff in roles like hers. [Text Wrapping Break]
‘‘To be honest, if you’re a white, privileged person in this role, it’s hard to just ‘get it’. You need to understand how to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families in an appropriate way. The Benevolent Society is on the right path, but they know there’s still work to be done.’’
There’s no doubt that Tarsha’s perspective is important to share. Especially with her combined passion for child protection and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
‘‘By having more identified workers who understand the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, I believe we’d see fewer children removed from their families. And if people are really connected to their culture, there are people in the community to look up to.’’
Pass it down the line: pride, passion, and family
Now, Tarsha is able to pass on her values to her four children. She and her two daughters have enjoyed the opportunity to connect with horses: showing, riding, and competing. Tarsha’s eldest daughter, Georgia, is the first woman who identifies as Aboriginal to compete at such a high level in her Western Pleasure discipline, having represented Australia in New Caledonia.
As Tarsha reflects on highlights in her career and as an identified Aboriginal woman, she notes the positive changes she’s able to help families and children make.
‘‘I feel like I’m making a difference, in particular with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. I never ever thought in my life that I would be acknowledged in the way I have been - through my work, my identity, my culture. I’m really proud of who I am. I’m really proud of where I’ve come from and where I’m going.’’
There’s no doubt about it. Tarsha has claimed her identity. She’s a mum, a Kamilaroi woman, and an inspiration.