Dameyon Bonson, a 39 year old Indigenous male born in Darwin, Northern Territory, is in his fifth year of a Double Degree in Social Work and Arts (Aboriginal Culture).
“I never thought I would go to Uni… It never even entered my mind as I was growing up,” said Dameyon. “I didn’t finish year twelve due to personal issues and the distractions of life. I left home at 17 and began my working life in customer service and hospitality.”
At the age of 19, Dameyon decided to move from Darwin to Perth, where his mother had some family. This began a ten year stretch of working in various hospitality jobs. “I enjoyed my life, I did. I just knew I didn’t want to do this forever,” said Dameyon. “So at the age of 29 I took two suitcases and doona and made the move to Adelaide.”
It was about this time that Dameyon heard rumblings about things happening back home; the precursor to the intervention in the Northern Territory. He wanted to be part of the solution. “I went and spoke to an academic advisor at the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research at the University of South Australia,” said Dameyon. “We decided I could make the most difference in the social work profession. I got into the double degree through the Aboriginal entry program and started Uni in 2006.”
“What a steep learning curve! I failed my first assignment as I had never done any academic writing before,” said Dameyon. “But I had a tutor though ITAS, the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme, who helped me learn the ropes. I started to realise that I had the smarts, I could actually do this and succeed.”
Whilst studying fulltime Dameyon was also working 30 hours a week at night in hospitality. This began to take its toll and Dameyon began to look around at the support structures available, applying for every scholarship he could find. “In the end I was approached by Disability SA who rather than a scholarship, offered me a cadetship via the National Indigenous Cadetship Program in a rural town,” said Dameyon. “I travelled an hour and a half by bus for every weekly 3.5 hour shift, but it was worth it.” After 2 years of commuting, Dameyon was transferred to an urban setting, which gave him a good understanding of the differences between working in rural and urban contexts.
In 2007, halfway through his second year at Uni, Dameyon decided to complete his studies externally. “I found that the way social work was taught in class conflicted with my world views,” said Dameyon. “It wasn’t the content – but the way it was taught. They were teaching me how to be a mainstream or non-Indigenous Social Worker and this didn’t sit well with me. I decided to do my degrees externally so that I could spend time working through the course in a way that fit with my beliefs and aspirations. I wanted to be a Social Worker who saw my practise through an Aboriginal lens.”
Studying externally also meant that Dameyon was working full time during the day and studying full time at night. Dameyon, putting into practice what he was learning in his social work course, worked as a mentor for young Aboriginal boys who may have otherwise fallen through the cracks. “Working with the boys was challenging, but rewarding,” said Dameyon. “We formed such an incredible bond, and I still have a relationship with one in particular to this day. We are family.”
A pivotal turning point for Dameyon, both personally and professionally, was participating in the inaugural National Indigenous Leadership Program for men. “The program was life changing and challenged me in so many ways,” said Dameyon. “Meeting and learning from over 50 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men from all over Australia pushed me beyond what I knew and strengthened my personal and professional capacity. I feel honoured that I know so many men who have gone on to be strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.”
As part of the leadership program Dameyon participated in the 50th Anniversary of NAIDOC in Darwin as a volunteer in youth programs. “It was fantastic to see how we can support our young people, what happens when we are inclusive of each other,” said Dameyon. It was also at this time that Dameyon met two inspirational leaders – Dr Jackie Huggins and Dr Tom Calma. “I was so privileged to connect with such incredibly influential and smart black fellas,” said Dameyon.
During the third year of his degree, Dameyon made a very difficult decision. “My best friend passed away, and combined with the loss of my father the year before it really took a toll on me,” said Dameyon. “I decided to pull out of my studies and concentrate on living. I am so grateful to my Mum who has always been my support and constant through my life. She helped me get through this and other challenges throughout my studies and work life. She gave me my resilience and strength.”
Over the next couple of years Dameyon continued to work towards improving the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) sector. Where he has, in a volunteer capacity, co-facilitated a number of leadership workshops.
In 2010 Dameyon was offered a job as the Social Inclusion & Economic Participation Consultant at the national office of headspace the National Youth Mental Health Foundation – incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, LGBTI and CALD portfolios. This was the first time Dameyon had worked at a national level, a challenge he met with enthusiasm.
However in 2011 Dameyon was once again yearning to work ‘out bush’ with his own mob and took on a role within the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health sector in Broome, working locally to develop and deliver upstream suicide prevention activities.
Whilst living and working in Broome, Dameyon decided to return to Uni to finish his degrees. He was fortunate to receive a Puggy Hunter Memorial scholarship and is now in his fifth and final year of study. Dameyon still works in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector providing guidance and support; working towards strengthening the social and emotional wellbeing of community members, advocating for better access to services for Aboriginal men, and training community members in Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid.
“Working in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Sector is the best environment to consolidate my social work skills and knowledge,” said Dameyon. “I can draw on what I’ve learnt and put it into practice within an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context. Every day I see strength in our community, particularly the men. I have seen Aboriginal men actively engaged in improving their own and their family’s social and emotional wellbeing and this is something worth promoting and celebrating.” This work has led to Dameyon being accepted to present on his work experiences at the 2nd International Indigenous Voices in Social Work Conference to be held in Manitoba, Canada July 2013.
Dameyon always dreamed he would work in a location where you’d want to visit for holidays… He is now living his dream in Broome. It has been a challenging and exciting journey, one that is far from over.
“Even when I finish my studies I will never be a typical Social Worker,” said Dameyon. “I am an Aboriginal male who is dedicated to contributing positively to the social and emotional wellbeing of our mob. I can’t look at my social work studies or my life with any other lens than that of an Aboriginal person. And this is what makes being an Aboriginal social worker unique.”