A smiling Teresa Cochrane is an Indigenous success story.

How to be an environmental advocate: Teresa’s story

Charles Sturt University student Teresa Cochrane is an Indigenous success story. She’s a proud First Nations woman learning how to be an environmental advocate who aims to combine her heritage and her studies to improve our world – especially our environment – and inspire other First Nations students to do the same!

Teresa is from the Dunghutti mob, up at Hat Head on the NSW coast. Studying a Bachelor of Environmental Science and Management1, the Charles Sturt Student Ambassador was the first member of her family to go to uni.

“There was always a push for me to represent our family and our people. My dad is super proud. From when my sister and I were very young he wanted us to succeed. All through school we were encouraged to do our best. Now he boasts about his daughter who is studying to be an environmental scientist!

“Being a proud First Nations women who’s the first in my family to go to uni helps prove to other First Nations women that they can do it, too.”

Culture and study are the perfect match when it comes to learning how to be an environmental advocate

Teresa always wanted a career that would benefit people. That’s why she started her time at Charles Sturt studying social work. But she soon realised that advocating for a sustainable future was where she was meant to be and she looked into how to be an environmental advocate.

“Being First Nations played a big part in me wanting to study environmental science. The more I study the more in tune I feel with my culture.

“That’s because a lot of First Nations culture is about Country and living with, among and conserving our biodiversity. It’s so cool that in my degree I’m able to learn more about First Nations ecological knowledge. The knowledge that has been used for thousands and thousands of years to live with our environment and nurture it not harm it.

“I understand how people used to map areas, find water sources and only use animals when they needed to. I remember growing up in Hat Head and fishing with Dad. He would explain what types of fish used to be eaten and those they weren’t. It was all about preserving species and ensuring food was sustainable.

“So, I’m realising that the pull towards environmental science was coming from my culture and I’m enjoying embracing it more and more.”   

Learning how to be an environmental advocate by linking to First Nations learnings

Teresa explains that studying environmental science and learning how to be an environmental advocate at Charles Sturt is intertwined with First Nations culture in both the academic and practical learning that’s done.

“Obviously I’ve gained a lot of knowledge growing up, from my family and my mob, but the great thing about studying at Charles Sturt is that I got to learn about many key areas of First Nations culture.

“A lot of components in my environmental subjects have links to First Nations things like ecological knowledge and also their relationship with the land. And increasingly, scientists are embracing First Nations culture and practices, building on the knowledge and learnings of the past 60,000 years.

“It definitely makes you develop a deeper appreciation for our environment and respect for those who lived in it. Knowing that people lived on this land, tended to it and were fed by it for those thousands of years. They made it work – all without the technology of today.

“That’s why, when I’m working on a field project I’m always referring back to my culture. Whenever we’re out doing, for example, animal surveys, we have to get approval from the Elders. Ask them if it’s okay to be undertaking these surveys on their native land. Being mindful of artefacts and areas that we can and can’t go into. First Nations culture has sacred areas, men’s areas and also women’s areas.”

Thinking, knowing and remembering

At Charles Sturt, we provide a range of services from our First Nations Student Centres. It’s a level of support that Teresa finds invaluable. The centre at Port Macquarie campus is named Ngarralbaa, meaning thinking, knowing and remembering.

“I can tell you, above all, with 100 per cent certainty that I wouldn’t have got this far in my degree without the help from the people at the centre.

“They’ll help you learn about a subject and organise tutoring – all First Nations students are allowed 10 hours of tutoring each session, for every subject they study. The team also works with you to find out what scholarships you can apply for and then they’ll read over your application.

“Once a week they also host study nights where we get a free feed! You get to study with other students and do workshops on topics like referencing, using our computer systems or figuring out your timetable.

“The student centres meant we were part of a community, we weren’t just at uni by ourselves. It’s where our culture is and where we have an enormous support network. We can get help, chat with an Elder, and motivate each other along the way.”  

Yindyamarra winhanganha – the Charles Sturt difference

Yindyamarra winhanganha. This is a Wiradjuri phrase meaning ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’. It’s at the heart of everything we stand for at Charles Sturt and this ethos has special meaning for Teresa.

“The fact that Charles Sturt uses a First Nations term, shows just how much they care about First Nations culture and happily embrace it. It feels close to my heart. It’s my language.

“It’s a great phrase to be guided by, especially for students. When you start uni you’re not sure where you fit in the world, then as you go through you realise you can make a difference and improve the world.

“I want to go back and work in National Parks and be on Country. Continue to learn from Indigenous people who understand the land. Continue to grow my own knowledge. I’m hoping to do a PhD and hopefully become a lecturer, then incorporate all my learning and pass it on to new environmental students.”  

Celebrating International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Each year, in August, the United Nations celebrates International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. For Teresa, it’s also a day that celebrates the cultures, contributions, and resilience of First Nations people.

“I think we should celebrate everyone – one love, one all. But I also thinks it’s important, on International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to acknowledge First Nations women. They have had a hard time throughout history and faced a lot of adversity, so we should be able to celebrate the fact that we succeed!

Celebrating our success helps build confidence and also moves us closer to equality.”    

Want to be part of First Nations success?

At Charles Sturt we have the programs and support to help First Nations students to succeed. Teresa’s tip?  

“I’d like to say ‘just do it’, but Nike has taken that line! There’s a reason that you’re thinking about going to uni and studying – so trust your gut and do it. If you have doubts, remember, at Charles Sturt you’ll get so much support. Also, there are services available for First Nations students. The team in the First Nations Student Centres are always willing to help, you can access tutoring (which I can’t recommend enough) and also know that everyone here wants you to succeed. Furthermore, you’ll have three years of fun and meeting like-minded people. Studying at uni is one of the first steps you can take to becoming the person you want to be!”

Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. So follow your heart. Get qualified. Land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. Let’s get to work!

1Cricos: 103015C