Determined to succeed
Education was not something highly valued when Cheryl Newton was growing up around the Port Stephens neighbourhoods of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest. In her family, you had a choice - you went to school or you went to work.
"I did not like high school much and wanted to leave early," recalled Newton. "But there was not a lot of work around at the same time, so I stayed. Even though I did not see any point being there, it was the easier option.
"Her decision to persevere with school paid off for the Executive Officer of the newly formed Wollotuka Institute, who has worked in Aboriginal education at the University for the past 17 years. After school, she finished a secretarial course - heeding her mother’s advice that this would ensure her a job - married, had three children and joined the workforce.
A true measure of Newton’s determination, though, came later when she found work as an administration officer at the University. Defying the odds and family expectations, she enrolled in higher education, first completing a Diploma of Aboriginal Studies and then the bachelor degree, while raising a family and holding down her job.
That she took eight years of part-time study to complete her degree - an accomplishment made easier, she said, by working at the University and receiving support from her colleagues - only shows how determined Newton is.
"I wanted to pull out many times and often asked myself why I was even bothering," said Newton, the first in her family to tackle higher education. "A lot of different emotions went through my head. But I am a determined person. If I start something, I like to finish it.
"It is that kind of commitment to getting the job done for which Newton received a Faculty Award for General Staff Excellence 2008, recognising her contributions to both the Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies and the Faculty of Education and Arts. (The School was a part of the Faculty until it was absorbed into The Wollotuka Institute in 2009. )
"The award is an enormous honour," said Newton, who has added the general running of the Institute to her previous responsibilities of looking after the academic and research portfolios. "What was especially fulfilling was being recognised for my work not only within the School, but across the entire Faculty."
Her no-nonsense attitude, she believes, has helped to set an example to young Indigenous people, her own three children included, who may be thinking about further studies or just looking to make something of their lives.
"I talk to the Indigenous students who come to the University about what they can expect. I tell them that I studied while raising a family and working. I hope to show them what might look impossible is possible."
Find out more about the University of Newcastle’s Indigenous programs - the most comprehensive in Australia.