Youth Identity in Australia

This week Marnee Shay, Annette Woods and Grace Sarra visited the University of Cumbria from sunny old Queensland Australia.

In a ‘deadly’ (means good in Australia) presentation they talked of their extensive research with Indigenous Youth. 3% of the Australian population is Indigenous, and 80% of that 3% are in ‘flexi schools’ having been pushed out of the mainstream education system.

Marnee, Annette and Grace spent time in a range of flexi schools across Australia speaking to these youth about their identity.

This was not a quick dip in, ask a few questions, and dip out exercise. The academics employed local staff as co-researchers to ensure that local knowledge was privileged in the process and local capacity and employment boosted. Marnee and her team spent two weeks in each school working in a relational and participatory way with young people.

The activities were built slowly, young people’s preferences respected, sessions tailored to be culturally sensitive, research tools were creative, and the youth given a budget of $5000 to make an artefact or product of their choice that reflected their identities.

The process was respectful, empowering and profound. Many youth who would not normally show up for school did for this project showing the potential of educational processes that are meaningful and respectful.

The research was socially just, ensuring that the participants gained as much from the process as the researchers, and that the knowledge was co-created, respectful, equitable. There are many lessons here about slow relational respectful research.

The end products are breathtaking – highly professional printed clothing, videos, artwork, poetry, all expressing something of what it is to be Indigenous youth in Australia. Impressive as artefacts, profound when the layers of meaning and considered – what the totems mean, what the young people rapped. We should take heed at the wisdom of youth on who they are and what they want.

Thank you to Marnee, Annette and Grace for sharing this important work with us in the UK, we who had a hand in dispossessing these youth of their lands in the first place. I applaud your work and admit my cultural shame.



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