Meet Billy, First Nations student and 2021 ABCN Foundation scholar

ABCN Foundation scholarship winner Billy is a proud Wonnarua Nation young man from the Hunter Valley in NSW. In his successful application for a three-year Accelerate scholarship, the Aboriginal student, now Brisbane-based, talked bravely about the discrimination he has faced all his life, citing the cultural, societal and mental health challenges that have impacted him and his family. 

Billy’s maternal grandmother was a product of the Stolen Generation, and he describes the pain of not knowing the ‘rich language, culture, and history’ that his peers enjoy and how this has influenced his identity. 

These challenges drive his desire to help others. ‘With the mental health crisis in the Indigenous community from inter-generational trauma, I passionately feel that people with capabilities such as myself should grab the opportunity to help others,’ Billy says. ‘I want to make a difference.’ 

Billy Neale sq
Billy Neale

Mabel Park Senior High School Principal Michael Hornby says that despite Billy’s difficulties, he is ‘resilient, aspirational, an exceptional student and a role model to his peers in Year 10’.

‘This extraordinary young man has challenged the stereotypes that surround First Nations learners and has fought so hard even to be in the position to apply for this program,’ he says. ‘Billy’s academic reports reflect his leadership potential and his exemplary conduct. He has fought incredible odds to have maintained such excellent academic results in our most challenging subjects.  

‘He is gentle and kind to others, never boastful about his achievements and always humble about his efforts. I doubt very much that Billy realises just how extraordinary he is.’  

This year, 17% of all Accelerate scholarships awarded went to First Nations students, with seven recipients nationwide. ABCN is incredibly excited to announce that, for the first time, we have engaged five First Nations volunteer mentors, including two in NSW and one each in Queensland, Victoria, and Western Australia.  

Being able to connect with a mentor who has experienced similar challenges is a great benefit for mentees. One challenge Billy has faced for much of his schooling is consistently negative opinions that he would be ‘given’ a place in university without having to work for it as a First Nations person. Billy, however, is determined that he will earn his place with hard work.  

‘I am a passionate student who strives to succeed through my education,’ he says. ‘Learning has always been a large part of my life; my home life has had a large impact on who I am and why I strive for success.’

Mr  Hornby  is certain that Billy has earned his place in whichever tertiary course he chooses. ‘For students like Billy, who do not fit the stereotypical and negative representations of Aboriginal identity most often presented in the media, it can often feel like success must be traded for culture.  

‘This can bring both a disconnect between his heritage as a young Indigenous man and his schooling experience with his First Nations peers.’ 

Billy is looking forward to the next three years and the opportunities his scholarship will provide. 

‘My whole extended family came from humble beginnings and have not had the privilege of accessing a tertiary education,’ he says. ‘No one that I know in my family has been to university … [Winning the scholarship] is a symbol of my hard work and passion to succeed. This will not just be a success for me but my whole family.  A scholarship like this is a life-changing opportunity.’  

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