UQ Centenary Oration Series: Jack Manning Bancroft
UQ Centenary Oration Series: Jack Manning Bancroft
22 April 2010

Teenagers needed to strip away years of conditioning from negative stereotypes to learn that being Aboriginal and successful was possible, a young indigenous leader told an audience in Brisbane last night.

Jack Manning Bancroft, 24, spoke about his personal journey and the mentoring program he has been running for the past five years to help Indigenous students through school and university.

“My Mum, who is Indigenous, had always made me believe that just because I was Aboriginal, if I worked my ass off, then I could be successful,” he said, speaking at the fourth University of Queensland Centenary Oration.

Mr Manning Bancroft said there came a point when he realised Aboriginality was just a title, and not an excuse to be a failure.

At age 10, he moved from suburban Sydney to Baryulgil, an Aboriginal mission an hour outside of Grafton, NSW, with his mother and younger sister.

When he claimed he was Aboriginal, he was told by the other Indigenous children he wasn’t.

“But my Mum said I was!” Mr Manning Bancroft said.

“If had never looked in a mirror, I would have assumed I had really dark skin,” he said.

He also told the audience that out of the 20 children in his class, only one made it to high school.

The one student who continued, went to boarding school in the Sydney suburb of Glebe, but dropped out in Year 9 and had two children before she was 18.

“This personal example stayed with me for a long time,” he said.

Mr Manning Bancroft is the CEO of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME), which places University mentors one-on-one with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from Year 7 upwards.

“Any kid, if given a chance, wants to have a good life,” he said, recalling some of the reasons he started the program.

He said AIME was about communicating old messages in a new, raw, youth-based way.

“The way the AIME staff and volunteers move, the way we talk, the way we dress with these hoodies – gives us credibility with these kids,” he said.

One of the objectives of AIME is to break down “layers of protection” that Mr Manning Bancroft says are a barrier to education for Indigenous students.

Mr Manning Bancroft said Indigenous kids surrounded themselves in multiple protective layers after years of disappointment and being told they weren’t expected to amount to much.

He gave examples of how these layers get built up throughout primary school.

“In Year 7 or 8, teachers say we know that Aboriginal kids drop out in Year 10, because that’s what Aboriginal kids do,” he said.

“They say, we’ve seen this kid’s older brother or sister or cousins come through, and they just waited around until they could get out of here in Year 10.

“Everything we do in the program is about stripping away these layers, and getting that five minute window to communicate with these kids that can change their lives forever.”

Mr Manning Bancroft, who has been voted as one of Sydney’s Top 100 most influential people, joins a line-up of leaders and thought-provokers who have been invited to take part in the UQ Centenary Oration Series.

Past speakers include Dr Tony Haymet, Director of the Scripps Institution in San Diego, Professor Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister, and Dr Penelope Wensley, Governor of Queensland.

The next speaker is Mrs Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, who will talk about freedom of information on Sunday May 2 at the UQ Centre.

Media: Sam Perry, AIME Programs and Communications Director, 0406 319388 or Shannon Price, UQ Communications Office, 07 3346 7660