Catch him if you can
You have to be fast to catch Joel Wenitong. As a first-year medical student, lecturer, well-known hip hop artist and music producer, Indigenous mentor and father-of-three, he races from one commitment to another.
"I guess you could say I'm busy," says Wenitong, with a laugh. "But everything I do is connected so it's much easier to prioritise. Family, community, health, music. That's what my life is all about."
The 33-year-old dynamo inherited his passion for teaching, music and health education from his mother Deb, a teacher, and father Mark, a University of Newcastle trained general practitioner.
Both his parents come from a long line of talented Indigenous musicians and, as a teenager, Wenitong was responsible for the sound and lighting at their gigs. He also plays a range of instruments including saxophone and bass.
"Mum and dad have been in a lot of different bands over the years and played everything from reggae to country," he says. "Music has always been part of my life."
Moving from south east Queensland to Newcastle as a 12-year-old so his father could begin his university studies, Wenitong turned to music to help him overcome a sense of isolation.
"I went from a school where 50 per cent of the students were Indigenous and I had a lot of family around, to a school of a thousand where I think there was me and a Sri Lankan kid who were dark-skinned," he recalls.
"I felt like the odd one out."
Hip hop has become the focus of Wenitong's musical skill and he is part of the award-winning trio Last Kinection, which includes his sister Naomi. Established in 2006, the hip hop group has supported international acts such as Public Enemy, Flo Rida and Diplo.
In 2009 Last Kinection was recognised with a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Music, Sport, Entertainment and Community Award, aka Deadly Award, for Outstanding Achievement in Hip Hop and R & B. The trio is recording its second album and is set to tour in 2011.
Sitting alongside his Deadly Award is the Indigenous Collaborations Excellence Award from the University's Faculty of Health, which was presented to Wenitong in 2009 for dedication to improving the way nursing students learn about Aboriginal history and culture.
"I like to take an informal approach," he says. "We sit around in circles and I teach students about Indigenous culture. Health is very important to Indigenous people and the more informed graduates can be about the issues, then the better the system becomes."
Wenitong has a profound commitment to education – his own, and that of local Indigenous communities. In the mix of his commitments is that of documentary maker and he is regularly commissioned by Aboriginal schools and councils to create informative films about health and social issues.
"A lot of what I do comes back to health education and there's a real need to visit schools and reach out to young people. It's something I'd like to continue when I'm a doctor. The grass roots approach is very effective in getting messages across."
Wenitong has assisted the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council with public awareness campaigns focusing on hepatitis C and teenage pregnancy.
He says he owes much to his parents who have encouraged and supported his various endeavours, as well as fellow University teachers and students. "Mum and dad have always been there for me. Even now, dad helps me out with my medical study and I can ask for advice.
"For Indigenous students, being at university can be very full-on and many are away from their families for the first time. I suppose I want to step in and help in the same way my parents do for me.
"Whether it's tutoring, or helping them unload boxes when they move here, it's all about helping Indigenous students succeed."
Find out more about the Bachelor of Medicine