Growing up in Darwin, cultural immersion was a big part of life for Yola. An Indonesian-Australian of Makassan and Moluccan ethnicity, every aspect of her life was touched by culture. Prior to colonisation, Yola’s family members had a strong treaty with Aboriginal people in the north of Australia. Shared medicine, recipes, spices and similarities in songlines and dance connected her ancestors to the Larrakia, Djerimanga and Wadjiginy people.
That connection continued with Yola’s dad, an earth mover. He worked with Aboriginal communities in and around Darwin, making access roads to connect communities. But the connection didn’t stop there. Yola’s family were welcomed like siblings and she spent years dancing in the same Aboriginal communities — just one of many times in Yola’s life when art has given her common ground with people who could have been perceived as ‘other’.
As a recipient of an Unrestricted Scholarship to the ARLP, Yola went into the two-week experience in the Kimberley feeling like a fringe dweller. Which she was — Yola was the only participant who didn’t belong to a specific organisation or industry.
“I walked into a room in which people’s identity was very tied up in the job title that they held. I was hard to pigeonhole because people struggle with the intangible — if you don’t fit into any box, who are you and what do you stand for?”
For Yola, who entered the ARLP with no expectations, because “that’s the way I choose to exist,” the key benefit of the program has been a strong sense of self-actualisation. “Imposter syndrome has disappeared,” she says. “And that impacts how you carry yourself in any space”.
Yola’s strict upbringing, cultural expectations and immersion in Indonesian, Aboriginal and Australian cultures made her an expert at code-switching from a young age. As a bilingual woman of colour working among both miners and creatives, it’s a practice she effortlessly continues today.
This unique perspective impacted her fellow participants — through creativity and dance, Yola encouraged them to break down barriers. Playing with language and movement in a non-threatening environment breeds a practice of challenging power structures, which, when taken into the real world, results in more people from diverse backgrounds being given the tools they need to become leaders.
And that’s what Yola is all about — taking the tools that she learned through the ARLP and sharing them with people who are marginalised. Enhancing inclusion, equity, and equipping young people with the tools they need to become our leaders in the future.
Yola received an alumni funded unrestricted scholarship to participate in the Australian Rural Leadership Program 25.