Festival of Change underway with hopeful youth outlook

Published:01 September 2020

Panellists for the Festival of Change launch event were (from top left) Maya James, Santiago Mills, Chiamaka Ibeme, Dominic McCarthy, Diya John and Kai Graz.

CQUniversity's third annual Festival of Change is underway, launching with a Youth Panel tackling the theme Generation COVID?

Moderated by CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Klomp, the lunchtime session on Tuesday 1 September heard from six young people from across Australia about study, jobs and career aspirations, and how COVID-19 was affecting their plans.

From Cairns, Wuthathi Aboriginal and Kulkalgul Torres Strait Islander man Santiago Mills said combining career and study has been a challenge this year, as work for contractors slowed down due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It makes you more resilient, but I also realise that I’m lucky – in a lot of places, the opportunities aren’t there, and it’s so easy for young Indigenous youth to lose their jobs and not be supported to have a career,” he said.

“Things are definitely tougher - COVID has taken away opportunities such as jobs, training, capacity to make money, security, and being able to practice cultural things.”

“Youth have got to be part of the discussions around the modelling of the rebuilding of the economy because of devastating consequences COVID is having on our future.”

Santiago said the need for Indigenous autonomy in managing communities was also highlighted in the pandemic.

“There’s been a huge setback for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are already disadvantaged and suffering inequality – resources should be in place for us to manage our own affairs, particularly at a time when it could be life and death decision-making for our people.”

Santiago is studying a Bachelor of Construction Management with CQUniversity, and said he had chosen his career path with a goal of improving infrastructure for Torres Strait Islander communities.

“I wanted to build a set of skills that would be useful, and that I could go back to the islands and share, and that would help other young kids see the possibilities of going to uni too,” he explained.

Professor Klomp said he was impressed by the positivity and determination of the participants.

“There is reason for optimism, and I’m sure we will emerge from COVID-19 – but it will take a lot of clear and creative work from our young people, and this panel certainly demonstrated the changemaker resilience to do it,” Prof Klomp said.

“As the Festival of Change continues and extends its focus to sustainable regional development and healthy communities, I’m looking forward to really constructive discussion about facing the challenges of our changing world.”

Other participants were CQU students Chiamaka Imebe (Master of Information Technology, Melbourne) and Dominic McCarthy (Bachelor of Business Management, Mackay), Melbourne high school student  Maya James, Melbourne University Finance and Economics student Diya John, and Rockhampton year 12 student Kai Graz.

Kai, who aims to study engineering next year, said he’s hopeful about the pandemic driving social renewal.

“We are living in a changing world, and cannot give in to isolation and demotivation - we have to grow together through this isolation, learn from our fear, and change our ways to adapt to a new world,” he said.

An academic leader at Emmaus College and vice-president of the school’s Interact club, Kai said he hoped his community would emerge from the pandemic stronger, kinder, and more united.

“I think that the greatest injustices our community are anchored in the persecution of people who do not fit the status quo, and the lack of acceptance for different cultures and beliefs,” he said.

But Kai hopes his generation can help lead change.

“Young people in Australia are the future, and our actions will shape it – and I hope what we’re thinking and learning and doing now what will make it better, brighter, and more just.”

CQUniversity’s Festival of Change continues until Thursday 17 September, with all online events open to the public.

Registration is free, for more information visit