A young catalyst for change
Callan Nickerson was seven years old when he told his mother that he would be Australia’s first Aboriginal prime minister. At 18 years old, the commerce student still holds fast to that dream.
"As an Indigenous Australian, nothing would make me prouder than holding that title," said Nickerson, who is a member of the Australian Labor Party.
While it is easy to dismiss Nickerson’s ambitions as youthful folly, you only need to look at what he has accomplished to date, and listen to his convictions, to see that he is someone of exceptional potential. Someone who is intent on using politics to make a difference.
In 2008, Nickerson, a descendent of the Biripi people, was the first Indigenous Australian to be made school captain in the 106-year history of Newcastle High School. In the same year, he was awarded Newcastle Young Citizen of the Year, for his community work with the local Stockton surf, swimming and rugby league clubs and with Aboriginal education. He also accepted a Principals Recommendation Scholarship from the University of Newcastle, one of two higher-education scholarships he was offered.
Add to this his many sporting, scholastic and citizenship awards, and his consistent track record on community participation, and a picture begins to emerge: here is a young man who is driven, gifted and clear-sighted.
Nickerson encourages young Indigenous Australians to stick with their schooling, by speaking at schools and other functions and through his involvement with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. He also uses these opportunities to raise Indigenous issues and has become an advocate for including Aboriginal studies on the curricula of all Australian schools.
"I would be speaking to students, a lot of them Aboriginal, and I would find it unbelievable that many did not realise the Stolen Generation went up to 1970," Nickerson said.
"Where does Aboriginal education come in? Where are Aboriginal issues taught? I would raise things like the fact there are 14 Aboriginal communities without proper sewerage, and four or five without running water - startling facts that you would expect to hear about in a developing country and yet it is right here in Australia."
For Nickerson, the continuing plight of Aboriginal Australians is personal. His grandfather was part of the Stolen Generation, taken from his traditional family as a boy and assimilated into white Australian society. Neither his grandfather nor his mother spoke about it, but Nickerson’s cousin - Aboriginal artist Dion Larrigo - opened his eyes to his family’s past and politicised his thinking.
"Humans do not like change, but it has to happen," Nickerson said. "People might say their views about Aboriginal Australians have changed in the past 40 years and, yes, they have, but there is a way to go. If someone comes to me and says there is no such thing as racism in schools anymore, I have news for them. That is absolute rubbish. It still exists."
Nickerson believes he can contribute by speaking out. He admits he gets a real buzz from speaking publicly and was inspired watching Barack Obama in the lead-up to last year’s United States presidential election. He hopes his involvement with Young Labor will enable him to build a platform for Aboriginal advocacy and affirmative action.
"I have always considered politics as a catalyst for change but I also want to approach it through small business," Nickerson said. "Coming from a small community like Stockton, if you understand small business, you understand the people - that is the way I see myself headed."
Find out more about the University of Newcastle’s Indigenous programs - the most comprehensive in Australia.