Rickiesha Deegan is a Kariyarra woman from Port Hedland with connections to the Nyikina people from the Kimberleys. She studied a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Curtin University and has worked in various roles at Curtin. She is also an artist and designer, and we recently commissioned Rickiesha to create an artwork for The RRR Network.  

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I grew up in Port Hedland and have recently moved back here after living in the city for five years. My family owned property just outside Port Hedland near Turner River, and I enjoyed growing up there. Still, it was also quite isolating, especially during my high school years. I think that’s why I was very creative. I taught myself how to play the guitar and did lots of drawing and writing to keep myself busy. I was also very focussed on schoolwork. 

I felt like it was my ticket out of Hedland for a bit. I felt like I couldn’t grow any further if I stayed, even though I loved the lifestyle. I had a dream of moving to the city.

What led you to study psychology at Curtin?

I’ve always had a passion for psychology and an interest in the human mind and behaviour. Growing up in Port Hedland and especially being part of the Aboriginal community, I saw many of the impacts colonisation and intergenerational trauma had on my people. Seeing those struggles and dealing with my personal experiences of anxiety and depression made me want to understand these things and help people when I was younger.

My first preference was to go to Curtin. I was part of the Follow the Dream program at high school, and on trips to Curtin, there was something about the atmosphere and people that I liked – it felt homey. I was 17 when I moved to Curtin and lived on campus. It was a hard transition. I was young and didn’t know many people, which was especially hard when I was experiencing anxiety. It helped to be with friends and have regular trips home to reconnect with family and country.

Can you tell us about your roles at Curtin University?

During my degree, I was part of the Aboriginal Student Placement Program and did some work with the Centre for Aboriginal Studies for a few weeks. This was my first time working in a professional role. I worked with the School of Pharmacy and then got a role with People and Culture.   

During this time, I participated in a Designing Your Life program delivered by Stanford University. 

This program helped reframe my mindset about my career, that it’s not just one linear pathway you have to stick to. I’d also been talking to senior staff about their jobs. This led me to explore different options, and I went to work in human resources at Curtin. When I completed my degree, I was offered a graduate position there and worked in various parts, eventually landing a recruitment position. I also worked with the Aboriginal Employment team, helping to build up Aboriginal employment across Curtin and then working with the Diversity and Equity team.  

When COVID hit last year, I struggled with my mental health and felt a strong calling to go home. I’ve been here now for a month, and I’m enjoying catching up with friends, camping and experiencing the community vibe.

You’ve recently created some artwork for the RRR Network. Can you tell us about that and your art practice in general?

The artwork I did for the RRR Network is about each individual’s connection and importance, no matter how far apart, giving strength to women of the RRR Network and passing on the learnings back into their homes and rural, regional and remote communities.

I’ve always been quite creative, but it’s only in the last two or three years that I’ve started doing work for other people. I mainly create digitally but also do acrylic paintings. My artwork comes from expressing my issues with mental health and connecting with my culture and identity.

Artwork by Rickiesha Deegan

What are your goals or hopes for the future?

In the future, I hope to become a psychologist and will need to complete some postgraduate studies to pursue that pathway. I’m thinking of starting next year. I’d also like to continue my art practice and combine the two somehow – maybe through art therapy. I am staying open, but that’s the direction I am going down at the moment.

Do you have any final words of advice for young aboriginal women living in rural, regional and remote areas?

Just take whatever opportunities are given to you. If I could say anything to my younger self, it would be to stay true to who you are and follow your gut and your instincts because sometimes your body knows how you feel before your mind does. I don’t want to sound cliché, but follow your heart and block out what everyone else is saying around you. People might judge you for wanting to do something outside of the norm, but don’t let that stop you from wanting to pursue your dreams and goals.

My biggest reminder I say to myself is to be who you needed when you were younger.  I think that is what carries me through.  

You can find out more about Rickiesha through her Instagram @kieshdesigns and website www.kieshdesigns.co