Student Stories: Morgan Miller (Kaantyu )
Morgan joins the Zoom call, and she’s using a filter for her background of an amazing piece of art. I ask her later who the piece is by – the answer is Cassie Leatham, a Taungurung/Wurundjeri woman of the Kulin Nation. The artist also did the artwork for the program Morgan has been working on for the Koori Family Violence Program at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. When Morgan speaks about her work as a paralegal, her passion is clear. As we speak, it is evident she is equally passionate about Tranby, and how her time with the organisation helped shape her into woman she is today.
Morgan’s mob are Kaantyu from far North Queensland, but she grew up in Toowoomba. Her grandmother was part of the Stolen Generations and her dad was given up for adoption. He was brought up by a white family who didn’t deny him a connection to culture, but because of the fragmented nature of her family history, Morgan has had to do a lot of her journeying on her own.
Morgan first came to Tranby when she was working at Djirra, an Aboriginal family violence legal service in Melbourne. She says she had always wanted to work in social justice issues: ‘When I got the job at the legal service, I cried because all I’ve wanted to do is work in community,’ says Morgan. ‘And although this isn’t my community it gives me an opportunity to create my own identity.’
It was the legal service that put her and another colleague up for the opportunity to go study at Tranby. Getting to share the experience with another woman so close to her in so many ways was really special to Morgan. Speaking of herself and the other woman, she says: ‘We’re both really fair skinned people but it doesn’t change the colour of our heart and what we see and what we feel. It was great to be able to share that journey with someone else, someone around my own age as well.’
From the moment she arrived, Morgan felt the warmth of the Tranby community. ‘When we got there…’ she pauses, then continues: ‘Gives me goosebumps talking about it! When we got there, it was an environment that was really welcoming and just from the get-go everyone’s like: ‘hey there, how’re you going’ every single day. I think it’s through that engagement that you feel like you’re part of a family.’
Morgan feels that Tranby not only gave her an education, but it gave her a confidence that she never really had in herself. ‘I was never a kid who thought that I would go to uni, or do any further education’, she says. ‘In my mind it was something that seemed great in theory, but I never had that self-belief that I could do that. Having gone to Tranby was almost like that steppingstone that made me realise that I have the ability to be able to study and retain that knowledge that I’m being taught.’
Whilst at Tranby, Morgan undertook the 10408NAT Diploma of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Advocacy. Now, she’s studying law at Deakin University in Melbourne. ‘If I hadn’t had the experience at Tranby, I would’ve had a lot more self-doubt and not been able to go down the path that I’ve had thus far’, she says. ‘That’s why I’m forever grateful to have had that experience.
It was also a more intimate learning experience – now that she is at Deakin University, Morgan can reflect on her time at Tranby as more personal, more involved, more hands on. In other educational settings, it can be harder to be vulnerable or ask for support – you’re one of hundreds of other students floating on the periphery of a lecturer’s radar. Opportunities to connect with staff or other students aren’t always readily available. At Tranby, students can experience the opposite.
‘We’re not only going there to further education, but we’re making connections with mob from other communities and sharing our own experiences from our respective communities where we live, or, you know, where we work’, says Morgan. ‘And I think that that’s really important that we’re able to share those experiences and be respectful of one another’s space.’
Nurturing these kinds of intimate relationships centred around trust and respect at Tranby has left Morgan with ‘lifelong friendships.’ One friendship in particular has remained strong, with a friend who also now lives in Melbourne. Morgan says that they are both ‘supporting each other on our own journeys within this space. It’s a very valuable relationship. And we get to, you know, cheer each other on with whatever steps that we take in our lives. And I think, had Tranby not been there, we wouldn’t have never met.’
At another point, another friend called to tell her she had to get out of her community. Morgan was quick to offer her friend stay with her in Melbourne, helping her get settled and find work when she arrived. ‘Just those linkages… still being able to support one another is fantastic’, says Morgan.
Last year, as the pandemic kept people from their loved ones, these connections became even more important. Morgan reflects on this, saying: ‘Last year with COVID and the lockdowns and how hard that was, and not seeing family, we were able to support each other through that, because all of our families are everywhere else. But you know, we had each other and I’m just really, really grateful because the impact that Tranby has had, has been in so many different areas of my life in such a positive way.’
When Morgan was a student, Tranby was a place where she and her peers could explore difficult topics in a safe and healthy environment. As she says, this ability to debrief with others has made her even more certain that she wants to work in communities, to keep learning and growing her connections to culture and to Country.
‘I’ve been in identified positions while I’ve been working at court, so everything I do is predominantly with First Nations people, which, you know, is really good for my own connection to culture, as well, because as an Aboriginal woman, I’m learning… continuing to learn every single day’, says Morgan. ‘And when I encourage my non-Aboriginal colleagues to do cultural awareness training, I remind them that I’m still learning every day as an Aboriginal person.’
For people considering becoming the future students of Tranby, Morgan encourages them to think of Tranby as a therapeutic space, one where they can heal and feel connected to one another and to Country. Morgan knows that this can sometimes be hard when life gets busy with work and other commitments.
‘In our workplaces, we get so caught up in what our responsibilities are, and we forget about what it feels like to feel grounded to feel connected’, she muses. ‘And I think, as Aboriginal people we’re so connected to Country, to the land, to the water. Tranby offers another opportunity to feel connected. And it just, it meant that it took you away from a white dominated space and took you into a Blak dominated space. And it just, it felt so much better to be able to just separate the two and just be who we are as people and not have to put on this façade for you know, the white man. I just, I think it’s important for the heart and the soul and the spirit to be able to do that.’
We talk some more, about the lockdowns, the renovations being done on Morgan’s property, her work with the Court. Her fiancée is a lawyer too, and an Aboriginal man whose mob is from Darwin in the Daly River area. As Morgan says, they are going to be ‘a family of legal people.’
Family, it seems, takes many forms for Morgan. And now, since studying at Tranby, her family has grown. I think she sums up the experience at Tranby perfectly when she says: ‘I signed up as a student and I became a family member.’
To connect with Morgan and follow her learning journey, see her Linkedin profile.
This story was written by Kashmira Mohamed Zagor as part of a volunteer research project. Tranby thanks her for her valuable contribution, her commitment to capturing and sharing First Nations voices and to showcasing the Tranby student journey.
If you would like your Tranby story to be told, please contact Jacinta at email@example.com