EXPLORING the finer details of her family’s history was an unexpected bonus for a Fraser Coast Butchulla student as she embarked on her higher education journey at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ).
Now in her second year of her Bachelor of Human Services studies, Chantel Van Wamelen said learning about her great-grandmother’s life as part of an USQ entry level program gave her a greater understanding of the hardships the late Childers woman faced as a child.
“I always knew Nanna Rainbow had been taken from Fraser Island but I didn’t know as much of the details before I did IHEPP,” the 29-year-old student said.
“Nanna Rainbow passed away when I was about 11 years old so I did have a bit of time her, but I didn’t know the details of what she went through. If I knew that earlier, I think I would have been a lot closer to her.”
Reflecting on her education journey so far, Ms Van Wamelen said cultural studies were part of the Indigenous Higher Education Pathways Program (IHEPP), which provides university hopefuls with the skills and knowledge required for tertiary studies.
“In one of the IHEPP cultural study classes, I did an oral assignment about policy that affected my family. I got to sit down with my aunty and she pulled out all the photos and we did the family tree. It was good because I didn’t know that much about what had happened to Nanna (Eileen) Rainbow.”
“She was born on Fraser Island and was taken to Cherbourg until she was about 13 years old when she moved to Chinchilla to work on a station as a domestic hand. She later moved to Maryborough and then to Childers where she met my great-grandfather, a South-Sea Islander, and had five children.
“Everyone referred to her as Nanna Rainbow. They had a big ranch on Rainbow’s Road at Childers.”
USQ Fraser Coast Indigenous Student Relationship Officer Linda Wondunna-Foley said, “That’s an awesome piece of history. My children’s grandmother, well-respected Elder Shirley (Wondunna) Foley, told lots of stories about staying with Nan Rainbow in Childers.”
Undoubtedly, Nanna Rainbow would have been incredibly proud of her great-granddaughter and the achievements she is making at USQ Fraser Coast today.
“My parents are certainly proud,” Ms Van Wamelen said. “I’m the first person in my family to go to university.”
After the former Urangan State High School student graduated from Year 12, she did one year of tertiary studies in New South Wales.
“The social science program I wanted wasn’t available here then so I went to Coffs Harbour but it was too far away. I missed my family too much. I stuck it out for a year then came back here to work as a language tutor and administrator before having kids.
“When I wanted to get back into university, it had been almost 10 years since I studied so I did IHEPP to upgrade my skills.
“It’s much easier to be able to study it here, especially now I have the children. I’ve got a good family support network here.”
The mother of three children – Jyleeah, 7, Takoda, 5, and Darnell, 3 – said having a personal tutor at USQ had helped her enormously.
“I don’t think I would have got through if not for my tutor. I’ve been working with her for three years now. She taught me at the start to do a plan so I know what goals I want to achieve. It’s up on the wall on a big piece of paper with all the dates when I have to have assignments done.”
With a garden dedicated to the work of historian and writer Elder Aunty Olga Miller, and language maps and artworks in the Centre for Australian Indigenous Knowledges, Ms Van Wamelen feels very much at home at USQ Fraser Coast.
“I allocate one day a week when I don’t have the kids to do all my university study. I could stay at home but if I come in to USQ I’m more focused on what I’m doing.”
Ms Van Wamelen’s career ambition is to be involved with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural support for Child Safety officers.
Until she finishes her degree, however, Ms Wondonna-Foley is hoping Ms Van Wamelen will become a tutor.
“She’s definitely tutor quality,” Ms Wondonna-Foley said.
Ms Van Wamelen’s advice for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is: “Even when times are tough, you’ve just got to stick at it. It’s the satisfaction for yourself that makes is worth it in the end.”