Sharing stories for girls

How sharing stories promotes better outcomes for Aboriginal girls

In eight remote and regional schools in Western Australia, a special kind of engagement program starts with sport and finishes with stories. The program is called Shooting Stars, and netball is the game that takes participants on a journey, leading to meaningful stories that are told, shared, reflected on and remembered in Aboriginal yarning circles.

More than 350 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander schoolgirls have been part of Shooting Stars since its pilot in 2014. Those numbers are set to grow after it was recently announced that Lotterywest will become a major supporter with a grant of almost $1 million to support the program over the next three years. And although most of the girls start their connection with the program through playing netball, the game is only a small part of the what happens for each participant.

Shooting Stars Participants Yarning: taken by Shooting Stars Regional Manager Helen Ockerby during an informal (non-research, non-recorded) afternoon yarn on 2018’s Junior Leadership Camp in Lombadina, WA with participants and staff from the following sites: Meekatharra, Narrogin, Carnarvon, Mullewa, Halls Creek, and Derby. The photo includes staff, participants, and West Coast Fever Ambassador Courtney Bruce

The bigger picture is supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island girls’ health, well being and educational outcomes.

Dr Rose Whitau, Research Manager of Glass Jar Australia – the registered charity that has Netball WA as its sole member – explains that the key to netball’s role in the broader program is its accessibility.

“Netball is a very accessible. Everyone has a role in the game and feels part of the team,’’ she says. But the program’s physical component can be adapted to dancing, playing footy or cycling, rather than netball. And the activity is just the starting point – the girls can aim for a place on reward camps, take part in community events and engage in health and well being sessions. Then they have the chance to consider and reflect on it all when taking part in a yarning circle.

The deep and rich tradition of yarning in Aboriginal communities is central to Shooting Star’s success. “By providing a platform for student voice and agency, where student feedback is honoured and acted upon, yarning circles empower participants,’’ Rose explains.

Not only that, but through sharing the stories and evaluating their experiences, the girls can shape the overall direction and content of their program. Local steering committees become the conduit for the yarning circles’ feedback and ensure community ownership of the program is maintained and aligned with the community’s goals and priorities. Shooting Stars’ staff – 85 per cent of whom are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – facilitate the yarning circles and analyse the results.

“From the yarning circles, we work out what areas the program in a particular location wants to focus on. It’s evidence-based practice on the ground,’’ Rose says.

The topics canvassed over the past three years have included barriers and solutions to school attendance, attitudes to school, relationships and leadership projects. But it’s likely that as the program expands, so too will the topics.

“Thanks to Lotterywest funding, in the next six to twelve months we are going to really knuckle down on the health and well being program, to take it to the next level,’’ rose says.

“Longer term, thanks to the commitment from the National Indigenous Australians Agency until 2023 and the signing of our first Premier Partner – the Gold Industry Group – we’ll also look to expand Shooting Stars to more sites and perhaps interstate.’’

The Lotterywest partnership will enable Shooting Stars to hire specialised Aboriginal staff, sponsor an Aboriginal post-graduate student, purchase three vehicles and develop staff research capacity. “We’re about empowering Aboriginal girls and women, through all aspects of their community,’’ Rose says. And that can sometimes start with Wing Attack, Goal Defence and the simple game of netball.

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