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Meet Riana Tatana

Thursday 30 April, 2015
by Jonathan Billingham
NCV Resident & UNSW Indigenous Student Ambassador for Nura Gili, UNSW

Riana is in her Honours year for Theatre & Performance Studies and moved into NCV at the start of 2015. However, there is much more to this remarkable young woman.

What do you enjoy about studying Theatre & Performance Studies at the Honours level?

I finally have the freedom to explore and research a specific aspect of Theatre and Performance that I am passionate about, which is Indigenous Australian theatre. I feel that Indigenous Australian theatre did not receive much attention during my undergraduate degree, so to make it the focus of my research is really exciting. I am even more excited to be given the opportunity to create my own piece of Theatre performance and to fully unleash my creative side.

As you embark on your honours year, what aspects of Indigenous Australian Theatre and Performance are you hoping to delve into?

I am hoping to explore the politics of identity and the politics of colour in Contemporary Indigenous Australian theatre practices. I am interested in looking at performative explorations of identity or self in Indigenous Australian Theatre, and how these explorations can avoid creating fixed representations that risk defining what Aboriginality is.

It must have been a great honour to be the Indigenous Student ambassador for UNSW. How was that experience?

This will be my third year as a Student Ambassador for Nura Gili Centre for Indigenous programs. For me, this centre represents a home away from home. It is one of my biggest support networks on campus and the staff and students are like my second family. Nura Gili really emphasises the importance of informing our young Indigenous students of the great opportunities and resources available to them. As a Student Ambassador, I am able to uphold these values by reaching out to students at careers markets, high schools, community events or hosting events on the main campus. These events allow me to encourage students to excel within their schooling and aim for higher education. It’s an empowering role for me to then watch our next generation progress into university and realise their own potential and capability to be the best they can be. It has been an incredibly awarding experience and honour to represent the Nura Gili community.

Could you tell me about the work you do with Teach for Australia

I am a Campus Consultant at Teach For Australia with the primary responsibility for our interactions with UNSW. By way of background, Teach For Australia is one of Australia’s fastest growing not-for-profits and our aim is to address one of Australia's most pressing social issues - educational disadvantage. Australia's education system is one of the least equitable in the developed work- where the achievement gap between students from high-income and low-income families is three years.

We believe that to achieve systemic change, inspirational leaders are needed in classrooms, schools, communities and government to champion efforts to close our education gap. We approach this by recruiting driven and passionate graduates from all degree areas to commit to teaching in a challenging, educationally disadvantaged school for at least two years. During this time they are completely supported by our award-winning leadership development program to become exceptional teachers, while receiving full salary, benefits, and upon completion, earning their Masters of Education. Our alumni have gone on to positions of influence and leadership roles in education and beyond. This includes senior advisers in government and management consulting, commercial lawyers, leaders in the not-for-profit sector, founders of start-ups and social enterprises, and even recipients of international scholarships such as the Rhodes.

Teach For Australia is not particularly well known at UNSW. So, as part of my role, I aim to connect with some of the most outstanding students and leaders at UNSW who are in their final year of studyand present them with this amazing opportunity. As a strong believer of the power of education, this is an extremely rewarding role. It has enabled me to fulfil my own ambitions in life, which are aligned with the vision of Teach for Australia, by making an impact on educational disadvantage in some way or another.

You’ve been involved with VOICE Youth Project including volunteering in Vanuatu. What did that look like and why get involved with that initiative?

When I’m asked about my experience in Vanuatu, I always have great difficulty in finding words or adjectives that truly explain what my experience was like or how I feel about it. Language becomes completely inadequate. It is impossible to capture my experience in the country that stole my heart (cliché but oh so true). So, I am certain that this small answer will not do it justice. Nevertheless, in 2014 I was selected to participate in the Indigenous Youth Leadership program run by VOICE Australia, and in partnership with Youth Challenge Vanuatu.

The program is an opportunity to participate in a 7 week grass roots community identified development project in Vanuatu, alongside other Indigenous Australian youth participants and Ni-Vanuatu volunteers. In a group of fifteen, we travelled to the small and extremely remote community of Butmas, on the Island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu. For five weeks, we were involved in renovating and constructing the Butmas’s First Aid Post with members of the community. We were also responsible for developing and delivering workshops with community members on topics identified by the community.

There were so many reasons why I wanted to get involved with the program. One of the main reasons, as a Bundjalung woman, was being able to reach out to an entirely different cultural community that may face similar circumstances as the Indigenous communities in Australia. I wanted to learn from these communities and I was hoping to, to some extent, engage in a cultural-exchange. In addition, by joining the program and immersing myself within a different culture, I could broaden my perspective and awareness of cross-cultural differences and values. I could also have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding and ability of communicating across cultural boundaries.

During the program, I became completely absorbed in a whole different world. I faced different challenges and found myself juggling new duties and responsibilities, all of which tested my resilience, taught me the importance of humour, as well as listening and observing, and helped me to develop personally and professionally. Sometimes life in Vanuatu definitely tested me, but I was always sure to remember this: when you walk up a mountain, your legs grow stronger. And this is true, in both a figurative and literal sense. Oh yes, those sand bags were not going to carry themselves up kilometres of rocky terrain. But all jokes aside, the program absolutely changed my whole perspective on life. I developed life long bonds, not only with the remarkable group of young volunteers, but also the beautiful community we were all so lucky and honoured to become a part of.It was truly a life changing experience and I can’t wait to go back.

How have you found living at NCV?

This is my first year at NCV! It is a beautiful college with a very understanding and enthusiastic community. I feel relieved at having found this college to reside in for my Honours year; it has provided me with my own personal space, where I can solely focus on my studies, as well as offer me new experiences. Living within the NCV community, I am still able to immerse myself within the social aspect of college life, while still benefiting from having privacy and living independently. I also love that there is a large number of post-grad students, who the college has shown great support for. It’s comforting to know that I have such a large support network who willingly offers assistance and guidance for my Honours studies. I really look forward to my time ahead at New College Village.