‘Education takes you places’: Uncle Cobbo’s journey

THE Burnett region has a proud history with Indigenous culture, from Olympic gold medallists to renowned artists and respected elders, the region is rich with stories, talent and history from First Australians.

For NAIDOC week, the South Burnett Times will shine a light on the Indigenous people, culture and traditions that make this region special.

The South Burnett Times team respects and honours Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past, present, and future.

We acknowledge the stories, traditions, and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this land, the traditional land of the Wakka Wakka people.

GROWING up in Cherbourg under the Aboriginal Protection Act, Fred Cobbo said life was full of ups and downs.

Experiencing racism throughout his life and overcoming the numerous challenges thrown his way shaped Mr Cobbo who is currently the Murgon State High School community engagement officer, a member of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council and a local Wakka Wakka person.

As Australian’s celebrate NAIDOC week throughout the country, Mr Cobbo said racism is still alive in the community.

“As an Aboriginal person the biggest challenges are racism. The broader Australia not understanding our culture and our place in Australia,” Mr Cobbo said.

“Growing up as a teenager I worked and saved money and when I would walk into a shop people see an Aboriginal kid and think I was going to steal something, not knowing I was going to buy something.

“Having to sit at the back of a room and never at the front and being called names is something I think has made me stronger.

“Still today there is a lot of hidden racism, if you walk around the streets of Murgon you will only see one Aboriginal run shop and I think the businesses in Murgon need to know the community of Cherbourg do support their businesses.”

Fred Cobbo. Photo/Tristan Evert
Fred Cobbo. Photo/Tristan Evert

In his role with Murgon State High School, Mr Cobbo’s mission is to educate and create not only talented Indigenous athletes, but also highly educated students.

This week the school hosted NAIDOC week activities every lunch from Boomerang throwing to Wakka Wakka dance lessons as well as face painting and story time with elders.

Mr Cobbo said education is the most powerful tool for young people.

“I am at the pointy end of my role with the school where I can actually engage with kids and encourage them to take on challenges.

“Not only do I want our community to be known for good sports people, I want kids to challenge the system around academic levels and achieve great academic outcomes.

“This school is renowned for good Aboriginal sports people and we want to change that and turn it around to our Aboriginal kids being known for their academic skills.”

When elders in the community found a large amount of Indigenous youth in the region were disengaging from education, they saw it as a major problem.

Cherbourg Elders campaigned at the Education Department to create a job for a local community engagement officer and that’s where Mr Cobbo steps in.

The education department created the role and the Cherbourg Elders asked Mr Cobbo if he would take on the role.

Mr Cobbo is an elected member of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council. Photo/File
Mr Cobbo is an elected member of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council. Photo/File

Mr Cobbo said he took some time to think about it before deciding to take on the challenge.

“They basically came knocking on my door and said we’ve created a space for you and the leaders of the community recommended I take on the role,” he said.

“As a former employee of Education Queensland, I took on the challenge as I believed in how important it was for not only Aboriginal students but non-Aboriginal students to engage with the history and culture of the land we are on.

“Celebrating NAIDOC week is very important. 56 per cent of our students are Aboriginal so we need to embrace Aboriginal culture and share it among all students so they can get to know Aboriginal culture.

“For many years we hear about the 11 tall ships and about Australian history, so I think it’s time Australia learnt about ours.”

When asked if he had a message for Aboriginal kids in the community, Mr Cobbo said “hold your head up high, be proud of who you are and don’t be afraid to take on the challenges of education, as it can take you anywhere in the world”.

READ MORE: Cherbourg to commemorate Spanish flu victims 100 years on

Ten Indigenous Burnett athletes who achieved greatness

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