The future is ours by Leyla Quartermaine

07.11.19 SHARE

The future is ours by Leyla Quartermaine

Koorie Youth Council


Photo of Leyla looking at the camera

The first time my Aboriginality was questioned was when I transitioned from primary school to high school. ‘You’re only half, aren’t you? You don’t look Aboriginal… but what percent Aboriginal are you?’ My peers, who were 12 – 14 years old at the time would make jokes about me sniffing petrol and getting ‘government handouts’ on a regular basis. Racism was an ongoing issue, which at the time I didn’t understand.

I went to a primary school with a high population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and I had always been encouraged to be proud of who I am and my culture. As an Aboriginal woman, I have a connection to the country that runs through my blood and through my spirit. I come from a line of very strong warrior women and men. I come from a line of staunch matriarchal women who have nurtured, loved, supported and growled at me when I needed it. 

When I started high school, suddenly my whole identity, everything I knew about who I am, who my family are, my community and my culture, was questioned. For the first time throughout all my education, I hated going to school. I would get dressed in my uniform every morning, but I would never actually go. My attendance became so low that I failed the year within the first semester. I had become so detached from my community, my family, friends, culture and my own self. 

After one of the hardest 12 months I’ve experienced, I went back to school. I moved four hours away from my friends and family, to a town where I knew no one, and I finished Year 12. During this time, I was selected to be an Executive member for the Koorie Youth Council (KYC). I remember the first meeting I went to was at the Koorie Heritage Trust. I was so nervous because I knew no one and I had no idea what to expect. But as soon as I met all the other Executive members, they immediately became my brothers and sisters.

I had to regain my confidence in who I was. My time on the Executive played a massive part in doing so. Each Executive member and staff member, have individually and collectively, played a significant role in my growth as a young Aboriginal woman.

To my Exec brothers and sisters, together we’ve learnt, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, and we’ve loved. From laying out under the stars talking about anything and everything in Halls Gap, to presenting at an international conference,  every time I’ve gone home feeling like I could take on the world. Thank you for giving my spirit, the strength when I needed it. 

To all my other brother boys and sister girls, your voices as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are important. The future is ours, it’s our inheritance. It’s our responsibility to care for our country and each other for our future generations. Just like our ancestors and Elders have done before us. Trust your decisions and trust that your ancestors are guiding you to where you need to be. 


Leyla Quartermaine is KYC’s Marram Nganyin Project Officer. Leyla is a proud Ballardong-Noongar woman from Western Australia and has grown up in Victoria. She has a strong passion for giving back to community and children in out of home care. Leyla has a background in drug and alcohol counselling, primary health care and education support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Leyla was an Executive member for three years and presented at the 2019 Koorie Youth Summit as a special guest panelist.