Grassroots girl power By Liz Rogers

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Lorraine Kabbindi White has six girls. Six 13-year-old girls. Sextuplets, you say? Well, no. Lorraine is the proud carer of six on-the-brink-of-womanhood Indigenous girls who, as part of a program run by the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School for students from remote or regional communities, are calling her place home. She’s only 27 herself, but this courageous and clever former Toorak College boarder figures she can handle it. The hormones. The chatter. The chaos that two different schools, multiple languages and a bunch of excited and enthusiastic young women can bring. 

She explains: “It can be overwhelming at times, but I’m really enjoying it. They are very switched on. They are on scholarships to Kingswood College in Box Hill and Siena College in Camberwell. That makes for interesting starts to the day because we — my partner and I — are living in Kew. The girls come from different regions and speak their Indigenous languages as well as English so it can get very noisy around here.”

Lorraine was the recipient of a scholarship to Toorak College in Mount Eliza herself, and boarded at the school in years 10, 11 and 12. She was also the only Indigenous girl at the school and was thus the first to graduate in 2009. She continues: “It wasn’t easy at first as I had come from a community in West Arnhem Land, where I felt I belonged, but the boarding house became a haven for me. I made real connections with the other girls, who also felt homesick, and ended up enjoying the experience. My girls are faced with the same issues. The non-Indigenous group is much larger than the Indigenous, but they love it. They don’t even want to go home for the holidays.”

The girls will be living with Lorraine and her partner, Bradley Copeland, until they finish their schooling. Lorraine’s role is as primary care-giver and that’s what she gets paid to do. She continues: “After school I went back home. I was very close to my grandfather, Bardayal Lofty Nadjamerrek, who was dying, and I got back to see him before he passed. He associated with nine language groups.” He also taught Lorraine how to paint. “I then worked as a teacher’s aide in the Oenpelli community but community life can be hard, especially in the wet season when it becomes an island. You are cut off and feel very isolated. I came back to Melbourne in 2013.”

Lorraine’s girls are well-versed in language too. Marlene, from Manyallaluk (Eva Valley community) in the Katherine region of the Northern Territory, speaks Kriol, Mayali and English. Denise, from the Nganmarriyanga (Palumpa community) in the NT’s Daly River region, speaks Murrinh Patha and English. Sherilyn, from the Ramingining community in the East Arnhem Land region of the NT, speaks Djambarrpuyngu and English. Lorraine’s little sister Timikar, niece Elaine and cousin Lilly all come from Gunbalanya (Oenpelli community) and speak Kunwinjku, Iwaidja, Kriol and English between them. Cripes!

“There’s a lot of patience involved. You’ve got to remember it’s new for them as well as for yourself, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says this girl power provider and designer of the new North Melbourne Indigenous footy jumper. 

Yes, she can do that too.

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