Growing up in my own Indigenous world

An extract from CQUni’s Greatvine podcast interview with Melinda Mann.

I grew up in different parts of Queensland and New South Wales. And so when I think about where I grew up, I see that through an Aboriginal lens. I was born on Yugara Country and then not long after I was born, moved back to Darumbal Country where my family are from. We spent a little bit of time, in a small town on Yuwi Country, which is in the Mackay region. I was almost turning 10 when we moved to New South Wales where I lived on Wiradjuri and Barkindji Country until we returned back to Darumbal Country when I was 16. So, my memories of my childhood are surrounded by family and it being a very Indigenous world for me. I didn’t know that back then. That was just my world that I lived in. It was such a beautiful time.

We grew up hunting and fishing and cooking and learning how to do all that from my parents and my grandparents and lots of aunties and uncles that I grew up with or grew up around, and listening and learning from Elders. There was always an Elder around us. We were always either sitting and listening to Elders talking and sharing stories, or we were serving them. We were bringing them teas and coffees and making food for them. My childhood was very much an Indigenous one … even though I went to school with lots of non-Indigenous people.

I grew up in small country towns and then went to larger schools in larger regional towns, but was always surrounded by Indigenous people. And it was when I moved to New South Wales, I realised how the Aboriginal thing kind of works. There are different mobs and the Wiradjuri mob was different to us and Barkindji mob was different to Wiradjuri people.

That was the start of my curiosity about what it meant to be Aboriginal. My childhood was just really a rich cultural experience. I grew up with lots of family, lots of other Aboriginal people from other groups. I didn’t know at that point in my life as a young person that I wasn’t just Aboriginal, I was also a South Sea Islander and those South Sea Islander roots being from Vanuatu and New Caledonia. It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I started to learn more about what it meant to be a South Sea Islander. When we moved back to Rockhampton I began learning more about how Aboriginal and South Sea Islander people have inter-married and reasons for inter-marriage all the way through the east coast of Queensland and top of New South Wales.

“My childhood was very much an Indigenous one…”

I think going to small rural schools was a highlight. Allowed me to form really good friendships with children from farmers and property owners. Everyone had their own different connection to Country. I loved it. I loved being able to run around barefoot. And everybody in the school was connected in some way, they were relatives or our parents worked together, so everyone knew each other.

I think I developed a bit of competitiveness in high school because I belonged to a family that was quite good at athletics and art. We had great representation of Indigenous people as students excelling in those areas. I’m not an athlete and I’m not an artist, but I loved reading and writing and the academic side of things. So I became quite competitive in that. I think it was my way of realising that Indigenous people could also contribute intellectually and to have a voice intellectually and be visible intellectually as well.

Melinda Mann was the first in her family to go to university and has recently completed a PhD, looking at the way Indigenous people transition from high school into work or further study. Melinda is currently CQUni’s Deputy Director for Student Life and Wellbeing.


Catch up on episodes from our previous Greatvine podcast series here.