As you may have seen with all the excitement on our Instagram page a couple of weeks ago (and if you didn’t, feel free to go back and checkout the highlights), a group of Ntaria high school students were lucky enough to head to Melbourne for the April school holiday week! Funded by Stronger Communities for Children (SCfC), the Interstate Trip was a raging success, incentivising and then rewarding top Term 1 high school attenders with an exciting week of new experiences and unforgettable memories!

The superstar students that earned a spot and came on this trip were: Shayla Namatijira, Evette Yamma, Reanna Sitzler, Christopher Pareroultja, Simon Enalanga, Trevor Malbunka, Leo Malbunka and Wilfred Ngalaia.

I was also lucky to have a great team of staff who volunteered their time to provide support for the week and without whom the trip wouldn’t have been possible: Thank you Eric Dunlop (Ntaria high school teacher), Nicholas Williams (Traditional Owner and SCfC Board Member) and Esther Arabie (Ntaria School graduate and new Assistant Teacher).

And so, on Monday 8th April, with parents briefed, friends envious, bags packed, and our very bright and bold new hoodies on, we headed for Alice Springs airport ready for an absolutely jam-packed week of activities across sports, arts, culture, and more. Here are the week’s highlights (otherwise this blog would be 10 pages long!):

  • This was the first time on a plane for a number of the students which was an exciting and nerve-wracking experience as they didn’t know what to expect! They all took it in their stride, from security pat downs, to scanning boarding passes before 2.5 hours of mesmerising views over the vast landscape of the Central Desert, through the clouds and, finally landing in the fresh air and drizzly rain of Melbourne!
  • We explored the CBD on the City Circle Tram, by foot, in our minibus, and on some of the modern trams too…we were locals by the end of the week! We passed sights like Parliament House, Carlton Gardens, Marvel Stadium, and the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel; we explored alleyways of artwork like AC/DC and Hosier lane; at Nicholas’ request, we browsed the very cool Culture Kings store; we marvelled at the grandeur of Flinders Street Station (as well as sheltering inside it from the rain); we even braved the Melbourne SkyDeck ‘Edge Experience’, standing in a glass box nearly 300 metres high off the side of the building, for a totally different perspective of the city – safe to say most of us conquered our fear of heights!
  • We braved the classic Melbourne weather (16 degrees, windy, and raining) to learn to surf at UrbnSurf! I have never seen smiles or heard laughter like I did for the 1.5 hours we spent in the water – what an experience! Everyone threw themselves right into it with no fear and we all even managed catch some waves standing up on our boards – not bad for beginners! We all came away slightly gutted that we can’t do our new favourite sport back home in the desert!
  • As we made our way to Gosch’s Paddock, we got to see AAMI Park up close and personal, but do you know what’s even better than that? Watching a Melbourne Demons training session from the boundary, meeting staff, coaches, and players, and snapping some pics with them! This was an absolute treat and pretty crazy to watch their ‘light’ training session the day before a game looked like pretty hard work!
  • One of my aims for the trip was to encourage everyone to try new food from a variety of cuisines! Everyone was up for this, smashing Italian (pizzas, pasta, and gelato), Mexican (quesadillas), Japanese (sushi), American (burgers), Chinese (everything off the menu in Chinatown – I may have slightly over-ordered!), and even Australian (a classic Melbourne style brunch, of course!) dishes. No one can argue that we weren’t well fuelled for all our activities!
  • We visited the ClothingTheGaps’ retail store in Brunswick, an awesome Victorian Aboriginal led, controlled, and mostly run social enterprise that celebrates Aboriginal people, culture, and values. I hoped this visit would show these Ntaria superstars that they can achieve anything, be proud of their culture, even combine it with business, and meet and learn about mob from other states too! We learned what a social enterprise was, how their profits fund their foundation (‘profit for purpose’) that strives to add years to Aboriginal lives through physical activity, got a tour of their retail store, even the behind-the-scenes space where they pack orders, learned about some of their campaigns, and even got to purchase something from the shop! We’ve been repping our merch back in Ntaria already…CTG represent!
  • One activity that the kids really couldn’t get their heads round when I was describing it, was the musical ‘Wicked’ – the best we managed was it being like a cinema, in a big fancy building called a theatre, but with live actors and all the bells and whistles. I was worried booking these tickets could end up being a quite expensive mistake but boy was I wrong…it was a hit! From opening curtain, everyone was fixed in their seats, leaning forward, with wide eyes of amazement – the lights, costumes, singing, dancing…it blew their minds! They still make references to the funny scenes from it at school and we always have a good giggle…like “toss, toss” and Elphaba’s dance moves (if you know, you know).
  • When you live in the Central desert, it’s pretty standard to have seen horses, kangaroos, snakes, goannas, perenties and the likes. Maybe even crocodiles at the Reptile Centre in Alice Springs. But animals like elephants, giraffes, monkeys, or lions are something from the movies. So, when we hit Melbourne Zoo, the excitement was palpable. We made friends with the orangutans, giggled at the red-bottomed baboons, and took a million-and-one photos to send to family!

Now all of this sounds epic, and it certainly was, but nothing could compare to the grand finale of the trip. Through some Territory networking (thanks Tommy from AFLNT), we were super lucky to spend our last night in Melbourne (drumroll please….) as Guards of Honour at the MCG for the Melbourne Demons in their fifth-round game against Brisbane Lions! Kitted out with special passes and flags, we walked through the players tunnel to stand on the oval in front of 45,000 fans to cheer on the Demons in as they ran out and through their banner right in front of us! But wait there, it gets better…

Top high school attenders, Shayla Namatjira and Leo Malbunka, were selected for extra special experiences! Kitted out in a fresh Demons kit and receiving a goody bag from the Demons sponsor, New Balance, Shayla was one of two Junior Mascots that got to hang out with Alyssa Bannan, AFLW Demons star, before running out with the Melbourne Demons, through the banner with the captain, Max Gawn, into the middle of the MCG oval before the game! She conquered all her nerves and loved every second of it! Senior student Leo, donning his fresh Melbourne Demons jacket, then headed out to shake hands with the two captains and umpire and do the coin toss – an experience many demons fans would die for! After practising his coin toss at brunch that morning, he was totally calm and collected and nailed it like a pro. As two fantastic humans who are kind, considerate, hardworking, humble, and all-round fantastic role models in Ntaria, there were no others more deserving of these once-in-a-lifetime experiences!

After the adrenaline rush of it all, and having been inundated by messages from family and friends from all around Australia spotting us on the TV, we settled in to watch the game that ended with a win for Brisbane Lions (which Trevor, a die-hard Lions supporter who even refused to hold a Demons flag for the Guard of Honour (you have to respect the loyalty) was stoked about!). Jumping on a couple late night trams, the kids pretty much navigated their own way home before crashing into bed.

As we made the journey back to Ntaria on the Friday, it’s safe to say we were all pretty exhausted but buzzing from the week that had been. Going through our ‘roses and thorns’ (highlights and lowlights) of the week, everyone beamed with excitement as they recalled their favourite activities and food, and said there was no way the week could’ve been any better…I’ll take that as a win! I’m hugely proud of the success of this trip and of each of the students that came, who embraced the nerves and uncertainty to grab every new experience thrown at them and give everything a crack with an open mind and a smile. Sharing these experiences and making these memories with them was a total privilege.

On the back of such a successful trip, I hope SCfC or a Ntaria funding board can make this a staple event every year for high school students, to incentivise and reward school attendance, engagement, and behaviour for years to come, but ultimately to provide Ntaria young people with the opportunities and experiences beyond their community that they deserve. Hopefully it makes the world (or at least Australia) feel a little bit smaller and less scary, and shows them they have the ability and confidence to take any opportunity or avenue in life anywhere, in Ntaria or even in a big city!

Written by Ellie Simmons – SCFC Program Director, Ntaria.