3 May 2024

Inspiration begins at home for Tarniesha

In January 2023, ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie dumped a week of heavy rain on the Fitzroy River catchment in north west WA. It resulted in the worst flooding in the state’s history, destroying more than 100 homes and businesses in the remote community of Fitzroy Crossing and cutting the town off from fresh food, fuel and supplies.

Tarniesha Oscar’s family was one of many who lost their home. Her mum and stepdad had no choice but to move 400kms away to Broome and, while they’ve since been able to move back to the Crossing, the community is still struggling.

As you can imagine, staying focussed on her Year 10 studies far away at Methodist Ladies College in Perth was a massive challenge for this Yalari scholarship recipient but, inspired by the example of her mother and grandmother, Tarniesha was determined to stay the course.

My nan grew up with a lot less than I had but she fought hard to get an education. She went to high school, which would have been unusual for an Indigenous girl in her time.

Nan is Emily Carter AM, CEO of Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre and has worked in Aboriginal health and welfare since the 1970s.

But, more than that, she is a devoted grandmother.

“Nan’s had a big influence on me. She’s very strong but humble and true to herself. She has always been therefor me; always pushed me to get a good education and set an example for my siblings.

I remember when Llew came out to Fitzroy Crossing for my Yalari interview – I was so nervous, wondering what I was going to say, but my grandparents live right next door so Nan strolled over and had a good yarn.”

As well as Nan Emily, Tarniesha’s jubi lives nextdoor too. June Oscar AO is Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Co-Patron (with Dame Quentin Bryce) of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and Co-Chair of the Close the Gap campaign.

She has been honoured as the National NAIDOC Person of the Year (2018), The WA Australian of the Year – Local Hero (2017), the recipient of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship (2016) and an honorary doctorate from Edith Cowen University.

Tarniesha goes back in time to describe her primary school. “At my primary school in Fitzroy Crossing, there were only 50-60 kids in the whole school. I was in a mixed Year 5/Year 6 class and was probably one of the top students.

But on my first day at boarding school, I just wanted to go home. I didn’t know what I was doing there – I was really shy and the work was really hard and you just think ‘what’s the point of trying?’ I didn’t want to ask for help because I didn’t want to seem like the dumb kid from a small town on an Indigenous scholarship.”

But Tarniesha didn’t leave. She has worked hard to successfully close that gap with the help of her Yalari tutors, Yalari Student Support Officer Nadia and the MLC boarding house tutors.

And by Year 9, she’d found her groove.

“I’d built my confidence by that stage. I knew everyone and we all basically knew where we are at with our academic abilities.

I also really love my sport. I play AFL football for Claremont in the West Australian Football League and I’ve been selected to go to New Zealand for a two-week netball tournament in April 2024. That will be my first ever overseas trip so I’m very excited but also a bit scared.”

Looking at her plans for the future, it seems that Tarniesha is very likely to follow in her nan’s footsteps.

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