Kyol’s Yalari journey comes full circle
In 2007, Kyol Blakeney was one of 13 Indigenous children who left their country towns, communities and families to attend a prestigious boarding school. It was Yalari’s second year of awarding the Rosemary Bishop Scholarship to promising students from remote and regional areas, and the organisation was not much more than Waverley, Llew and an idea that sounded like it just might work.
For Kyol, the scholarship meant drawing a line beneath a dream childhood in Werris Creek where kids could safely run around all day until the streetlights came on; where everybody knew everybody and, if you found yourself too far from home, you could easily get a lift back because everyone knew where you lived.
But, as idyllic as it was growing up on Gomeroi country, Kyol wanted more.
“I wanted to know more; to be educated; to make a difference. I remember the day that Waverley and Llew sat at our kitchen table and told my mother that they could make that happen for me. She just burst into tears.”
Kyol was given the opportunity to attend The Scots College in Sydney on a Yalari scholarship and “had an amazing time”. Even today, his heart swells at the sound of the bagpipe and his left foot automatically taps to the beat of a snare drum.
“But the truth is, it was also hard. There were feelings of hopelessness, loneliness and isolation from family and country. Ultimately, I let my stubbornness rule and became determined to survive. I knew that, for me to be noticed, I had to be someone. I had to be better. So I threw myself into every aspect of college life. I played the sports. I joined the clubs. I took up the bagpipe and travelled around the world with it. I learnt to express myself in two languages: mine and theirs.”
In 2011, Kyol graduated The Scots College as a Pipe Major, House Captain and College Prefect. And he knew exactly what he wanted to do next.
“I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to educate. I was determined to make a difference … and to pay it forward.”
At Sydney University, he hit his stride: “I met a group of other Aboriginal students – all studying different degrees – and they became my family, support system and inspiration to keep going.” Kyol got into student politics, represented Australia at the Youth Leaders’ Conference in the USA and spoke at TEDx. He was part of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Redfern and campaigned for the rights of Indigenous people and underprivileged groups on every platform he could find.
In 2013, he became Sydney University’s Indigenous Office Bearer. In 2014, he was elected as a Councillor to the Students Representative Council. And in 2015, he held the office of President of the University’s 87th Council.
As one of the guest speakers at Yalari’s Annual Sydney Fundraising Dinner in July, Kyol captivated a room full of supporters, donors and sponsors with the inspirational story of his journey, but it was his destination that really hit home.
“I stand before you this evening as a proud teacher, five years into my career at Glebe Public School. My ‘childhood dream’ walks into the classroom every morning and greets me with ‘Good morning, Mr Blakeney’. I spend my days looking for new ways to spark interest and passion in young people. I change the world every day. One. Child. At. A. Time. My journey would not have been possible without the support of Yalari and its donors and that’s a connection that will be with me forever.”
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