This year’s NAIDOC week theme of ‘heal country, heal our nation’ is close to Lachlan Saunders’ heart.
The final-year Outdoor Education student is already working to care for country as a Parks and Wildlife Ranger in the Northern Territory, but his studies will pave the way for a career in education, and in turn, real healing.
“Protecting and maintaining culture can be done through education and teaching I believe,” Lachlan says.
“Our connection to Country comes through teaching and caring for the land, and if we can show the outside world why we care so much – and why we should care so much – it can go a long way in enabling their understanding of our culture and connection to this land.”
Lachlan is a Larrakia man from Darwin, who was inspired to study Outdoor Education by a former teacher.
“My outdoor ed teacher at my old school was someone I looked up to massively, and he had studied here. The course is phenomenal, so it was pretty easy to make a decision.
“I do the nature tourism stream as my major, so that helps me learn to lead tour and school groups, but it also looks into ecology, conservation and natural history, anthropology and archaeology, so gives me the best of both worlds.”
Lachlan says the course has also been a conduit to learn about Indigenous culture in Victoria.
“Coming from another part of Australia, I was initially unfamiliar with the cultural groups down here in Victoria,” he says. “Everything I have learnt about the Dja Dja Wurrung People I have learnt here at university.
“A lot of my learning has taken place at Kooyoora State Park. It has helped me see and come to understand the differences in the knowledge that remains within Victoria compared to the Northern Territory.
“I have come to learn that a lot of history has been lost within Victoria due to colonisation, and these effects did not impact Northern Australia as much it would seem.”
Lachlan says La Trobe has been respectful and understanding of the complexities involved with learning about Indigenous culture and history. It’s also been respectful of him as an Indigenous student. He describes the campus Indigenous unit as a “second family”.
“They wish to ensure our safety, health and wellbeing at all times,” he says. “They always check up on us, and keen to have a chat whenever.
“They really provide all the support and encouragement you need to succeed with your studies and anything else going on in your life to ensure you can perform to your fullest potential. Tash, Renee and Michelle are like my mothers away from home, I could always count on them during my four years at La Trobe.”
Indigenous participation rates in tertiary study are still very low, so Lachlan is keen to encourage others to likewise pursue a degree.
“We can all do it,” he says. “It may seem daunting at first and your mind plays games with you, but the reality is that there is always a way, and there is always help for you to succeed to your highest potential.”
Photograph of Lachlan taken by Brendan McCarthy at the 2021 campus Sorry Day ceremony.