Girls from as far away as Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory are among the occupants of a new AFL Cape York boarding house in the Cairns suburb of Redlynch.
The $10 million 45-bed facility catering specifically to girls was officially opened today, building on the success of the boy’s program which began in 2013.
AFL Cape York House General Manager Rick Hanlon told Tropic Now 38 girls Indigenous girls from Cape York, the Torres Strait and communities in and around the Gulf of Carpentaria are already enrolled.
He expects the centre will be at capacity within weeks, surpassing all expectations.
“We only budgeted for 20 students in first year but the girls have really responded and they talk to their families about boarding here and how we operate,” he said.
“It’s not an easy environment, it’s tough to leave the environment you’ve grown up in and adjust when you’ve got the habits and beliefs of your community.
“But we spend a lot of time around the personal wellbeing of the young people.”
While AFL training and games factor highly in the wellbeing scheme, the program’s primary aim is providing pathways to secondary schooling and employment for remote area youth.
They attend local schools during the week, and there are teaching staff on hand at the boarding houses to help with extra tutoring and assignments.
Rick Hanlon said six young women from remote Groote Eylandt in the western Gulf are among the girl’s program’s first cohort.
“We developed a relationship with the Land Council there and it wants to support young people to go to secondary school,” he said.
“It’s been a real eye opener as to their needs but because we have more of a compact model than traditional boarding schools, it enables us to work with kids that need the extra support.”
The new facility, funded by the Federal Government, includes accommodation as well as a small amphitheatre, half size basketball court and a swimming pool – a luxury Mr Hanlon said the boy’s house doesn’t yet have.
“The pool's a sticking point, we’re trying to address that,” he said.
“It’s great, it works as a reward program and it’s really good for the skin and little health irritations.”
He said it’s his hope that the girls quickly become a part of the Redlynch community.
“We want to make a solid impact in the local community,” Mr Hanlon said.
“We want Redlynch residents to drive past and say, ‘isn’t it great we’ve got these girls in our neighbourhood.’”
The Member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch and the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion were on hand for today's official opening.
"If you educate a young woman you educate a family and if you educate a family you educate a community, we know that across the board," Mr Scullion said.
"This is just such an important investment."
Mr Entsch said the Federal Government has committed an extra $4 million to the operational costs of both the girl's and boy's AFL Cape York houses over the next two years.
"This is just where all the magic happens and you see that whenever a young person leaves here and goes out and faces the world," he said.
"We know this makes a difference."