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Young Torres Strait Islander woman connecting culture and science

[supplied by TSRA]

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TSRA's Madeina David. Image: Harriet Spark Grumpy Turtle Creative

Traditional Owner and Marine Biologist Madeina David, 23, is living the dream on her island home of Iama (Yam) in the Torres Strait.

She’s using her degree to connect modern science with traditional land and sea management.

Ms David said she always wanted to work in in the field.

“Even before starting primary school, I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist,” Ms David said.

“My dad is a cray fisherman and growing up I was always out on the reef with him, I love it.

“I want to ensure future generations can experience the sea and all that it provides,” she said.

Her journey hasn’t been easy. She left her family at the age of 11 to attend boarding school on Thursday Island.

“It was a challenge, there’s a gap in education between primary school and high school,” she said.

“There were a lot of things we didn’t learn to get us ready for high school.

“I felt like I was behind, but it didn’t take me long to catch up.

“We had one teacher who’d go out of his way to help us students who were struggling, he tutored on weekends and stayed after school.”

Ms David then made the even bigger move to study at James Cook University in Townsville.

“I had a rough time at uni, so I needed to commit and be definite about what I wanted to do,” she said.

“In the first two years, I was scared to ask for help even though many others were struggling too.

“That’s what got me through uni, I chose something I really wanted to do – so quitting wasn’t an option.

“If you focus on something you like doing, you won’t give up.”

A cadetship with the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) led to various job offers – but an opportunity to join the TSRA Land and Sea Management Unit - Sea team stood out.

“After being away for so long, I love being able to work in my community and for my people,” she said.

“My parents are very proud and happy to have me home.

“It doesn’t feel like a job or work, I’m doing things that I love.”

Now she’s learning to find her voice to help inform local decision-making and support those around her.

“Scientists visit and if my workmates don’t feel comfortable, I ask the questions and then break it down into Creole to help everyone understand,” she said.

“I think with my degree and experience, I get a lot of support from the rangers and Traditional Owners I talk to.”

She’s also encouraging more young people to chase their dreams.

“When I talk with my younger cousins about their futures, I tell them to find what they’re passionate about,” she said.

“When I was in high school, my teacher asked the class to consider where we see ourselves in five years.

“I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than this.

“I love everything marine, fisheries and conservation – I just want to do everything.”

In 2021, TSRA had a total of 151 employees. Women made up more than half (58 per cent) of the TSRA workforce and the majority of the workforce (78 per cent) are Torres Strait Islander and/or Aboriginal. 

Through TSRA’s women’s leadership programme, 48 women have completed skills and capacity training since 2014. 

Learn more about the TSRA at www.tsra.gov.au

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