“We want to be here to lead the young people, and we are always encouraging them to look over the barriers beyond the horizon to the amazing opportunities.”

Karen has been in Bunbury most of her life. However, she was born on Bindjareb country, a small town traditionally named Korijikup, now known as Harvey. Karen is one of 8 siblings, a wife, mother of three, and grandmother of two (soon to be three).

Over the last decade, Karen has focused on knowing who’s in her community and what she can do to create an impact and make a difference, leading Karen to start a career in education. Karen admits working in her high school was a bit of a change “I was an AIEO for a lot of time, then I became a LOTE teacher for the Noongar language”. Karen has done a lot of training/ including with Relationships Australia as an education officer and delivering education courses. She is currently working at ECU as their Student Success and Engagement Officer.

Going back out to work with an Aboriginal employment service. Karen has started her own family consultancy BILYA Moorditjabiny Training Services, which she has built to develop Indigenous leadership. Karen’s passion is working with youths and adults to develop and rehabilitate them for the world. She works in prisons, schools and other community placements to achieve this. “We build their language skills, personal empowerment and leadership skills”.

Each situation that Karen is in regarding her services is always different. “I look towards what my parents and elders have done in our community”. Karen also works silent partner called Hanni, who has created the program together, intending to build capacity in the minds of young people no matter who they are. Several vital focuses of their courses include Cultural awareness & personal empowerment, which gives Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people an understanding of the intergenerational trauma they have endured. “My husband is part of the stolen generation, so I know first-hand what that is like through learning about his history”. We look at it through a holistic approach, aligning all of our past to gain a better future.

“Youth is my passion, from working in schools and mentoring young people”. Karen has several stories of young men and women mentored by Karen, including men who have gone from nothing to starting their own business and having a family. Other notable individuals that have gone through Karen’s mentorship include AFL stars Lewis & Neville Jetta, Kirk Ugle, Courtney Ugle, Nathaniel May famous boxer, Joanne Hill managing a construction and training business, Netball Start Donnell Wallam, Graham Taylor, a police officer, and Tracey Edwards Manager of Kurongkurl Katitjiny Centre at ECU who is now Karen’s boss. Karen’s own children’s achievements include Cassie being a well renowned young artist in the Southwest and Mum of 3 soon. Kristy is studying to be a LOTE teacher of Noongar Language, working for the schools, and assisting with the running of Bilya Training. As well as her son is Max Jnr working with the City of Bunbury as a Reconciliation and Wellbeing Officer and made history as South Bunbury Women’s League coach in the SW Football league. Karen looks forward to her three grandchildren having a lot to look forward to in their future.

It is imperative to continue with the work Karen is doing. She encourages young people by encouraging as many people as possible to teach people about the available pathways and opportunities. “We want to be here to lead the young people, and we are always encouraging them to look over the barriers beyond the horizon to the amazing opportunities”. Karen knows she and the elders won’t be here forever to support the movement. Karen’s biggest piece of advice for a young person wanting to work in this space is to be proud of yourself and continue to have your self-belief. “The support is huge, and you just need to take it and don’t let anything stop you, especially our young women”.

Not that Karen has a lot of spare time, but she is also the Chairperson of Yaka Dandjoo Events, which means coming together in the Noongar language. The group was formed by Aboriginal women working in Health at the time who felt the need to create a committee to access funds to deliver community events by being inclusive of everyone. Various small groups were applying for funding, and it felt very separated and competitive, and they wanted to come together and connect. With similar events beginning in the community and limited funding, it was time to form the group. The group now have 30+ members. Yaka Dandjoo is there to promote events around the community and support other communities around the greater Bunbury region. “The reconciliation process is one of the main focuses for us as this is something we need to come together and have a platform that allows us to create awareness of how we will build a better nation”.

Their main two events are National Reconciliation Week, where the Reconciliation Bridge Week is gaining momentum and participating every year. The other is NAIDOC Week to celebrates everything Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people do in our nations. They are a volunteer group and rely on grant applications, sponsorship and donations, and Karen is very thankful to all who support them. Still, there is always space for more sponsors, donors/and philanthropists to come on board.

Karen’s motivation for her work is to believe in what you are doing “You just have to keep going, no matter what, as there is so much to do and this gives me the strength to keep going”. She also notes she wouldn’t be where she is today without the support of her husband and family. “Part of our business is working in prison, and as a female Aboriginal woman, working in a male prison can be tough at times”. Karen also states that her mother is a massive support “she’s my prayer warrior,” providing the family with the extra strength when needed.