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AFL Cape York House for Girls: a great place to live while you study

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Adult male in multi-coloured shirt and adult female in red shirt stand in front of a large red sign which says AFL Cape York House for Girls. In the background is grass, a road, some buildings and hills.
From left: Boarding Manager Sean Hunter and Business Support Officer Sodyla Kris
20 Dec 2019

The Australian Football League (AFL) is a billion dollar sporting and entertainment business with matches attracting large crowds at multiple venues across Australia and huge television audiences.

It is also making a difference in the lives of Indigenous boys and girls around Australia, including remote communities across Northern Australia.

In January of 2019, AFL Cape York House for Girls opened its doors to 40 girls from school years 7 to 12.

Sean Hunter is its Boarding Manager.

‘AFL Cape York House for Girls was set up to give young Indigenous girls from Cape York, the Torres Strait and the Northern Territory an opportunity to go to school and to access secondary education,’ Sean said.

‘The primary purpose for us is to see the young people be who they want to be, and do what they want to do with their futures.’

The residential house provides single and double room accommodation with all the amenities girls could need including a laundry, kitchen and eating areas.

It has social spaces including a small single ring basketball court, a swimming pool and small amphitheatre.

Meals are provided but the girls do their own laundry, except for their uniforms.

There is always staff on hand with at least two staff members sleeping overnight. The girls are required to do their homework in a classroom where a teacher monitors their work.

AFL Cape York has been established for 20 years and for the first 15 years, it ran game development programs up through the Cape and Torres Strait regions.

These programs enabled regular access to, and helped to create conversations with, the communities.

As a result of these grass root level contacts, AFL Cape York recognised a need. Many of the Indigenous boys and girls weren’t attending high school because their communities were only able to provide them access to a modified education program.

‘In 2013 the Boys’ House opened and gave 40 young men the opportunity to go to school. We’ve seen tremendous success with over 23 graduates from the Boys’ House and it was the girls’ turn,’ Sean said.

‘The girls in the same communities needed to have the same access to education, an opportunity they otherwise would not have.’

Sean said that AFL House is based on three pillars. The first is access to education at one of the state or private high schools in the Cairns region.

The second is a comprehensive wellbeing program that looks after their physical, social and emotional wellbeing. A wellbeing coordinator arranges appointments with medical services as well as counselling.

The third pillar is careers and transition. The girls are taught life skills and are assisted as they transition from their community to the boarding school. They are also assisted to make the transition to the workplace after graduation and to live outside a boarding structure.

The girls don’t have to play AFL but most join the small football club in Cairns called ‘The Eagles’.

This is a wellbeing program designed to instil health and fitness habits in the girls. In addition, it is a community engagement strategy to help the girls interact with the local community.

‘It also gives them skillsets from volunteering and being on the club committee. It empowers them and gives them a voice around responsibility and ownership of something they truly own and want to be a part of,’ Sean said.

Years from now, AFL Cape York House for Girls graduates will be working in satisfying careers all over Australia and even the world.

At the AFL Women’s Grand Final in May of 2019, 53000 spectators packed into Adelaide Oval to watch the game. Women’s AFL is on the rise and perhaps before long, an AFL Cape York House for Girls graduate will be playing on the biggest stage the women’s game has to offer.

Find out more

AFL Cape York House for Girls was built with financial support from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (now National Indigenous Australians Agency), through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) Children and Schooling programme.

AFL Cape York House for Girls also receives operational funding through the IAS Children and Schooling programme to deliver the residential programme.

Additional operational funding comes from the AFL with the girls’ high school education supported by the Department of Human Services through ABSTUDY.

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