Imagine leaving your family in Darwin or the Kimberley at the age of 12 to become a retired student in Victoria.
But Geelong Grammar is not just a school.
It counts among its elite graduates Prince Charles, Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, John Fairfax, Malcolm Fraser, John Gorton, Alexander Downer, Charles Perkins, Missy Higgins, Portia de Rossi, Marta Dusseldorp, Simon Holmes à Court , Tim Burstall, mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape, Helen Garner, Malaysian King Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu.
It also offers the largest number of Indigenous Scholarships in Australia, making it a perfect backdrop for NITV’s new factual series Out of the country.
The 4-part series produced by Brown Cabs Productions, Letterbox Films and Goodthing Productions follows 7 First Nations students as they leave their families for a formative adolescence in a new environment.
“The only thing stopping me from coming home is this amazing opportunity,” says seventh-year student Chloe of Pittsworth, Qld.
She is one of many Indigenous students who have experienced comments, even bullying, about her skin colour, especially from others who question her fair skin.
Twelfth year Zoe, cruelly nicknamed “25%”, was once told that she was “white in passing”.
“No one would believe me,” adds Year 12 Jaycee, “I know I’m Aboriginal. I know who I am, I know who my family and my tribe are.”
But Geelong Grammar has its first indigenous school captain in 165 years. Sunny, who comes from a family of sheep grazing on Swan Hill, has demonstrated what is possible, even if he is hard on himself for doing well in class.
“The only pressure I feel is from myself…” he explains. “The only thing stopping me is me at the moment.”
The school encourages its students to “drive their own education” which they pursue through academia, sports and social activities.
Cameras also follow the students to Timbertop, the high country camp where the finer things in life are given up for camping and hiking. There’s also a 33km marathon at the end of the year (staff explain that that task is worked out gradually throughout the year).
It’s hard not to be impressed by Xyz, a Bairnsdale teenager wise beyond his years. He never met his father, he left his mother’s care at the age of 8 to live with his grandmother and his aunt recently committed suicide (statistically 4 times higher in the indigenous community).
“I’ve seen things no guy should really see…” he reveals.
But it’s not all hard to see. The spirit of the students is resilient and the 7s are brave to adopt a new environment at such an early age.
Tahlia’s father also wants his daughter to go into politics – his heart is in publishing. I hope she makes it happen.
Off Country screens Thursdays at 8pm on NITV.