While the world is focused on COVID-19, educational challenges still remain, and will continue, for many Australians, particularly those in remote areas. Here we share the journey of former Trinity College student Marli Mathewson, who is on a mission to improve the Northern Territory’s justice system.
‘Fitting sticks in our bedroom window frames was not an uncommon thing to do,’ says Marli Mathewson (TC 2016), recounting her childhood in the East Side neighbourhood of Alice Springs. ‘More than once we woke up to find our house being broken into, and the police were called to our street several times a week.’
For Marli, a future at Trinity College and the University of Melbourne seemed fanciful. Growing up in a place so far removed from the opportunities available to those living in more urbanised areas – educational or otherwise – Marli says that for many kids in rural areas, attending college isn’t just a pipe dream: it simply isn’t a dream at all.
‘It’s a world that is out of reach for so many people, not just in a financial sense, but culturally and experientially,’ she says. ‘Where I come from, there are no colleges, or anything that typically accompanies your average college experience. There are no networking events, no black-tie balls, no footy games at the MCG.’ It’s hard to imagine living a life you can’t conceptualise.
That said, Marli was fortunate to have received a good education, encouraged by her parents, and had an inkling that, given the right opportunity, she was capable of pursuing a career as a lawyer.
That opportunity came in the form of a scholarship to attend Trinity College, made possible due to the generosity of Bryan and Rosemary Cutter, who were keen to give a leg up to young people living in remote parts of Australia.
Following his retirement as a doctor, Bryan (TC 1956) mentored young doctors in two rural hospitals in the Northern Territory. It was here that he began to understand the challenges faced by children growing up in the NT. ‘Rosemary and I realised that the way to help the community was not by us doing anything, but by them doing something,’ says Bryan. ‘And the way to get them to do something was to get them properly educated.’ This was the couples’ inspiration to set up the Bryan & Rosemary Cutter Foundation, through which a Trinity College scholarship is offered each year.
When Marli secured one of these scholarships, Rosemary wrote to her, as she does with all of their scholarship recipients. Through the exchange of handwritten letters, a special bond was formed, and Marli says she relished the fact that her support didn’t come from an anonymous donor, but from ‘real people’ who truly cared about her. ‘Each year, Marli writes to tell us how she’s getting on,’ says Bryan. ‘It’s always so lovely to hear from her.’
After graduating her Bachelor of Arts with an average of first-class honours, Marli began a law degree while working as a paralegal at a corporate law firm. Upon graduation, Marli hopes to use her education to give back to the place where she grew up. ‘I left Alice Springs because I wanted to pursue an education and a career that would have been otherwise unavailable to me,’ she says. ‘But now I want to go back to contribute to what I believe is a necessary reform of the Northern Territory justice system. It’s something I’m very passionate about.’
Despite growing up in what was at times a challenging environment, Marli looks back on her upbringing with appreciation, saying it helped her understand Australia’s complex social, cultural and economic disparity. ‘Growing up in Alice Springs gives you a lot of perspective on life,’ she says. ‘I feel very fortunate that I was exposed to these kinds of experiences in my childhood.’
Marli feels that Trinity then broadened her perspective further. ‘The students at Trinity are educated, passionate and are really engaged in what they talk about,’ she says, recalling nights spent sitting around discussing everything from politics to social injustice to religion. ‘I felt like I’d found my people.’
The article first appeared in issue 88 of Trinity Today.