SHAUNAH Downton isn’t your average graduating senior.
The 18-year-old was awarded early entry to study midwifery at Australian Catholic University, Banyo, following a school-based traineeship with Metro North Hospital and Health Service.
From the Kamilaroi people in Mungindi, overlapping NSW and Queensland borders but with a NSW postcode, Shaunah was named Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year.
She also gained the support of State Member for Murumba Steven Miles who nominated her for Moreton Bay Regional Council’s Young Australian of the Year.
As a leader at Southern Cross Catholic College, Scarborough, on the Redcliffe Peninsula, Shaunah “displayed great qualities” and “was always a headstrong and mature young woman”, assistant principal for religious education Paul Corfield said.
“Shaunah lives the five core principles that we are guided by in our Lasallian tradition,” he said.
“She models for us how to create an environment that respects inclusion, strives to be the best person she can be and is a wonderful person who makes an impact on everyone she meets.”
Mr Corfield acknowledged the 2019 graduate’s “fair share of tough times” where she had “shown strength to come back after being knocked down”.
Moving to Brisbane’s outer north aged 15 years, to live with cousins, Shaunah said other schools were not able or willing to enrol her and SCCC, its caring community, structure and leadership were her saving grace.
“I couldn’t get into other schools and then a family friend suggested the Indigenous program at Southern Cross (Catholic College),” she said.
“The school have been so amazing.”
The group supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at SCCC is called Garranyali.
From her initial enrolment interview, to constant help with fees, uniforms and other expenses, to the completion of a traineeship as an Assistant in Nursing (AIN) in Years 11 and 12, Shaunah believes more than ever in herself and the future.
Her goals and motivations are based on lived experience.
“When I was a teenager, I started to get off track,” the SCCC graduate said. “I wasn’t focusing on school.
“I’ve seen people not able to get far, stuck in a dark hole, it’s like a spiral of negative choices and poor health.
“(But) I was strong enough to get myself out. I wanted a change.”
Shaunah is motivated to “make a change out there” too.
“Many in my community aren’t focused on health, they don’t know the dangers and what can happen,” she said.
“Educating them about health and well-being is important to me, about the damage of drugs, alcohol and poor hygiene.
“When they don’t finish school, they don’t have anyone to tell them.”
Shaunah spoke of her interest in motivating others to “being open with doctors”.
“I know many people who don’t like going to doctors and talking about what’s wrong with them,” she said.
“I want to be someone they can be open with. I want to help people become successful and live a better life.”
Shaunah’s inspired to help young mothers especially, propelled towards midwifery following work experience in Redcliffe Hospital, north of Brisbane.
“I have a lot of cousins who had kids young,” she said.
“They don’t always know what’s going to happen to their body.
“I want to help stop post-natal depression.”
All the while, Shaunah’s proud of her Indigenous heritage.
“Every chance I get, I tell people where I come from,” she said.
Shaunah said her mum Sandra was particularly proud of her achievements and attitude, present for the reception of the state-wide prize.
“When I was nominated for the regional Queensland training awards, Mum didn’t realise how big it was,” Shaunah said.
“She was stoked and so proud of me … even though she wants me back home.”
SCCC principal Chris Campbell farewelled all senior students this week, wishing them well and equally proud of Shaunah’s accomplishments.
“What has been significant has been the opportunity to watch Shaunah’s determination to continue … as numerous challenges were thrown in her direction,” Mr Campbell said.
“There were times when it would have been easy for her to opt out of studies and the pursuit of her goals. This day never arrived as Shaunah met every obstacle that came her way. She never gave up as she personified a fighting Indigenous spirit.”
“Leaving behind her footprint” is how Mr Corfield described Shaunah’s time at SCCC and collectively the school looks forward to hearing how far and wide she makes her mark.
With growing independence and more interested this weekend in celebrating her 18th birthday with family than in heading to Schoolies Week, one question remains, “Who does she barrack for in the State of Origin?”
“New South Wales of course,” Shaunah said.