As a young child, Keona Wilson had big dreams. She knew she wanted a good life, even if she wasn’t always sure how to get there. An Aboriginal woman born in Redcliff Queensland, Keona is a speech pathologist of 7 years and is a former Board Director at Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA).
Keona, who grew up in foster care and attended four different primary schools and four high schools across Queensland and New South Wales, didn’t experience success in school and attendance was poor. She said “I wanted to share my story because I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to know that you don’t have to be super smart or the best student. You just have to know where you want to go and work hard. With the right supports, anything is possible.”
“After I finished school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” said Keona. “I enrolled in Nursing at Wollongong University but soon realised that it wasn’t for me. However it did give me a taste for working in health, so I looked at other options available to me.”
Keona discovered the Special Admission (Cadigal) Program at the University of Sydney and decided to move to Sydney and apply to study speech pathology. She was immediately supported by Yooroang Garang, the centre of Indigenous student support at Cumberland Campus.It wasn’t all smooth sailing though; Keona struggled during the first semester of her studies.“It was a huge change for me and the academic environment was so different to anything I’d experienced,” said Keona. “It was hard to meet my most basic needs – finding somewhere to live and supporting myself in a new city. I was working in hospitality four nights a week to get by and my studies had to come second to this. I ended up failing all my subjects so I quit.”“If it wasn’t for the support from the team at Yooroang Garang it could have ended there. But they helped me see that I could do it and I re-enrolled and tried again. They offered so much support and guidance, both academically and socially, and got me through the challenging first two years of my degree.”
The turning point for Keona occurred in the third year of her studies when she got a Rotary scholarship and started an Indigenous cadetship at Mt Druitt Community Health Centre. “The financial support that I received meant that I could fully focus on my studies instead of on survival. I went from barely a pass average to a distinction average and with the cadetship I knew I would have a job at the end of my studies.” said Keona. “And through it all Yooroang Garang was there for me.”
Keona finally finished her studies in 2005 and began her career as a speech pathologist. She worked in various positions throughout her career, before finally ending up in her current role as the Paediatric Unit Head for Speech Pathology in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW. At a local level Keona is on the Respecting the Difference cultural education working group and is working on a project with the local Aboriginal pre-school.
While in her role as Board Director at IAHA, Keona drove Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific speech pathology initiatives focussed on improving access to speech pathology services, curriculum development and early childhood support.
“I really enjoy what I do, I love working with children and knowing that I make a difference in their lives,” said Keona. “So if you want to know more about becoming an allied health professional, you can visit www.iaha.com.au.”