A group of young Indigenous men are encouraged to grab life’s opportunities “with both hands” at a hostel that transforms into a home away from home.
Some boarders travel more than 600 kilometres to live at Kirinari, based in Garden Suburb, and attend Hunter Sports High and Cardiff High School.
Many are aspiring rugby league players hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous residents and ex-NRL stars Timana Tahu, Greg Inglis, and Ashley Gordon.
Head of boarding Lehetta Lane-Porter, who lives on site with her own family, wants the boys to chase their dreams while also learning family values of respect, responsibility and relationships.
“We cater for 12 boys here,” she says.
“All of them come from rural communities for an education, first and foremost, but we also provide opportunities with sport, work experience, and that kind of thing.
“Coming from the bush to the city gets them out of that rut at home with regards to peer pressure within the community and crime rate – it’s removing them from that before they get involved in what their mates are doing.”
Member for Shortland Pat Conroy and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, visited the hostel last week.
A Wiradjuri woman, Ms Burney told the boys she was proud of them as First Nations people who were working hard to achieve their goals.
Ms Lane-Porter says it’s a boost for them to meet people in government.
“[They] don’t really understand the role and I know Linda touched on the voting system and how she wanted the young boys to get in and do that as soon as they turn 18 [years old],” she says.
“That gives them a voice within Australia too.
“Linda also spoke about opportunities and kind of said there are two things in life that people can’t take away from you.
“One of them is your identity, so your Aboriginality, and the second is your education – grab it with both hands, go from there, and anything can happen.”
After moving away at the age of 11, Ms Lane-Porter understands how difficult it is to be so far from home.
However, she says the hostel’s motto – Come in as strangers, leave as brothers – resonates with the boarders.
“I really appreciate the fact that they obviously trust in myself and the staff who work here to guide them through their educational journey,” Ms Lane-Porter says.
“A lot of people still comment on that [motto] and pop in on their way through Newcastle to say that it’s the best time of their lives coming here.”