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From the islands to the big city - Sydney student discovers his passion for occupational therapy

29 August 2016
When he was just 12-years-old, Nathaniel Tamwoy endured a long stint in hospital that would turn out to change his life.

Nathaniel’s occupational therapist at Queensland’s Mackay Base Hospital was by his side every day for six weeks, helping him to achieve a speedy recovery.

“I still remember her,” he says. “She was there for me in my moment of need and she inspired me to look for ways to help people, since occupational therapy was helping me.”

Nathaniel had always known he wanted to make a difference, but the hospital stay helped him find a direction. “I’ve got a thing about helping people to become the best that they can be. That’s when I decided I wanted to study occupational therapy” he says.

During his last years at school, Nathaniel attended several summer and winter programs at the University of Sydney through the Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu program.

These week-long programs enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students to stay on campus and experience university life.

Life is too short to say no to an opportunity that gets you to your goal or dream.
- Nathaniel Tamwoy, University of Sydney student

“The opportunity to travel and live in Sydney was amazing,” the 19-year-old says. “That’s when Sydney Uni got into my head. The sports and the people appealed to me. At the summer program I met Mitchell Whiteley [student leader], and he got me into rugby union.”

Now in his second semester of his Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Occupational Therapy) degree, Nathaniel is enjoying playing for the Sydney University Football Club and keen to pursue more activities in his second year.

Originally from Badu Island in the Torres Strait Islands, Nathaniel is the first in his family to travel this far from home. He hopes to encourage others to follow their passions too.

“In the future I see myself as a professional rugby player, going up to the Islands and inspiring younger generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids to build their confidence. “Nothing is impossible. Try something, travel, do whatever you want to do, follow your dreams,”

He adds one other piece of advice: “Be different. Don’t follow a group. Be yourself and follow your passions, not what other people think is ‘cool’.”

This story first appeared in the Koori Mail on 10 August 2016.