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A teacher and a mentor

Russel Warde is an Indigenous Mentor on campus at TAFE Queensland's Bracken Ridge trade training facility.

Russel ‘Rusty’ Warde has committed his life to teaching, from his days as a boxing coach through to now as a carpentry teacher at TAFE Queensland, and has been a mentor to young Indigenous students all the way.

An Indigenous man himself, Russel is passionate about his culture and growing his own and others’ knowledge of the history, traditions, and art of Indigenous people. Russel particularly enjoys helping young Indigenous students find out more about their own culture and where they come from.

“Most of them will know their mob at least, but not the details about their cultural art and its meaning, or the traditions and rituals of their mob,” Russel said.

As a mentor to Indigenous students at TAFE Queensland’s Bracken Ridge trade training facility, Russel looks to help students celebrate and understand their culture, as well as lending a hand where he can with their home life and training.

“I always make a point to not judge, I think that’s why I’ve been a good mentor across my time. People feel safe to talk to me and let me help them out because no matter who they are I treat them as my equal,” he said.

He bases this on the idea of a Yarning Circle, something Indigenous people have used for thousands of years to resolve conflict and have respectful discussions between individuals and groups.

A Yarning Circle is the act of coming together and having a discussion in which there is no hierarchy, all parties are equal and will be respected when they speak. Russel has plans to initiate an on-campus Yarning Circle location at TAFE Queensland Bracken Ridge.

The planned Yarning Circle would provide students an area to sit with themselves or with others, including Russel as the Indigenous Mentor if they wish, to encourage students to celebrate their culture.

“The Yarning Circle would be a reminder of Indigenous culture and an invitation to respect and participate in that. With the design in mind, you won’t even have to be meeting with somebody to feel the energy of the Yarning Circle, the carvings and totems in the area will achieve that for individuals as well,” said Russel.

Russel pictures the planned Yarning Circle as an incredibly spiritual place, one which imparts on a visitor energy of respect and learning whether there is a discussion happening at that time or not.

Having spent almost five years travelling the country and learning from Indigenous people from all areas of Australia, Russel has built a wealth of knowledge about the similarities and differences between mobs from all different areas.

Russel is particularly passionate about Indigenous art, himself an avid painter, carver, and wood-burner. Throughout his travels he kept notes on the different markings, totems, styles of the art of different mobs, and feels well-versed in the story-telling element of Indigenous art.

Russel’s plan is to incorporate this art into the Yarning Circle through carvings around the site which tell stories and encourage group discussion. Carvings would include representations of landscapes, mobs, and individuals, much like Russel’s own carvings which bear his personal totem or those of his mob.

The Yarning Circle project and broader TAFE Queensland Bracken Ridge Indigenous Mentor program have their own lines of communication and encourage people to reach out and discuss any and all matters with them from the link below.