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Made of Women: Meet Rosealee

22nd March, 2021

For International Women’s Day 2021, we’re highlighting the women in our community who inspire and empower us. Who are paving the way for the next generation of storytellers, change-makers and leaders. The women who make us, us. We’re made of women. 


Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am a Yolŋu woman from North East Arnhem Land. I moved to Sydney in 2003 to pursue a career in dance and studied at NAISDA Dance College. I stayed in Sydney after my studies and I have been fortunate enough to travel the world through my artistic endeavours. I am now back in my hometown of Yirrkala and am working at Yirrkala School with the STARS Foundation. I am now a mumma and this year I will start studying to become a teacher.


Describe Yirrkala to us.

We are in the middle of the wet season at the moment. I love the colour of the red earth and the new shoots of green foliage. Yirrkala is a beautiful fierce melting pot of different clan groups and families across East Arnhem Land. It’s a place where weekends are spent out hunting. We all gather together on the beach to share our catch. I love eating oysters off the rocks when they are full of milk and juicy. One of my favourite and one of the most beautiful places to visit here is Buku-Larranggay Mulka Art Centre. You need to visit to believe it.


Can you tell us a bit about your role working with students at Yirrkala School?

At Yirrkala School I am not just a staff member but I am also a family member to all the students.

I like to think that I bring good vibes to the school and that rubs off onto the students and that they feel like wanting to come to school every day and learn something new. I want them to know they can achieve anything they want.


We hear you’re involved in the STARS Foundation! Can you tell us about that?

STARS Foundation is an in-school support program for young indigenous women. We provide them with help during class, teach students life skills, and help with getting students to school. We also have an afterschool program which involves swimming, driving lessons, cooking etc. Most importantly we impart knowledge on how to live healthy, active lives, that education is key to success and to contribute to our communities.


Why is STARS so important for a community like Yirrkala?

By educating women in our communities we also educate the entire community and the nation prospers. We need to educate our young women to ensure our families stay healthy.


What is the best part of your role?

I love watching the confidence in the young women grow. Its amazing seeing the girls coming to school everyday and watching them smile and do a fist pump when they have learnt and achieved something new. I love when the girls make cups of tea for our elders and visitors and listen to their stories because they are showing them respect. I love watching the girls have a laugh with each other at the end of a challenging day.


What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the youth in Yirrkala right now? 

The biggest challenge that I see is the lack of support and education around social media and mental health.


How do you think access to education empowers your community?

Our community members can determine what happens in our communities and ensure that we don’t have to travel away from country to be able to learn.


As a performer, how important do you think it is for kids to have access to the arts through programs like the Mulka Project? 

Having access to the Arts is so important to everyone’s life. The Mulka Project is a space where community members can access archival footage and recording of songs, dances, images of the region. We can also record new ideas and we have somewhere to share art, music, books, creativity, dance! All the good things in life.

Mulka really helps the kids see what other youth around the world are doing and then feeling pride at showing the world what special dances, music and art they have to share. I go there often to chat with the staff and create music and video clips with the kids in the community. The kids love seeing their faces on the internet and hearing their songs.


What does a program like Mulka mean for Yirrkala? 

Mulka is a culturally safe space. We can be creative in a space where Yolŋu have control over the content that is being created and shared throughout the world. It’s a place where we can look back at what our ancestors did and find inspiration.


Tell us about what empowers you, and why.

Education empowers me. The more I learn the more I begin to understand how I can shape my future, my son’s future and my community’s future.