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Riding a rough wave to success

Hitting rock bottom and realising that this was his do or die moment, Brendan Larcombe began to cling to any bubble he could find to rise to the top.

The proud Goreng Goreng man and father-of-three is now drug and alcohol free, employed full time as a Residential Boarding Supervisor at AFL Cape York House, and doing his best to influence a new generation of First Nations youth to aim for the stars.

As a young man growing up in the Minjungbal Bunjalung (Tweed Heads/Gold Coast) region, Brendan fell into a spiralling cycle of drug and alcohol addiction until the age of 35.

“By the age of 13 I was drinking, smoking drugs at 14, by 16 I was a full blown drug addict and alcoholic and I went on a downhill spiral. There was a couple of prison stints, suicide attempts, I split up with the mother of my children, and I was homeless,” Brendan said.

After his second round of live-in rehabilitation, Brendan enrolled in a Certificate III In Sport and Recreation (SIS30015) at TAFE Queensland’s Cairns campus.

“I was trying to change my circle of friends and circle of influence but I did relapse and I was back on the drugs for two years. Then I was homeless, living with a bag of clothes. Suddenly, it was a switch inside me. I woke up one morning and thought, 'I am going to die.' The thing that popped into my head was rehab so I walked from Redlynch straight to rehab and started a few days later," Brendan said.

“This time I was doing it for me. And while there are still some times when I struggle and have to take a shower to help myself refocus, I know I will never go back down that path again,” he said.

Returning to TAFE Queensland, Brendan enrolled in a Certificate III in Community Service (CHC30215) with a goal to give back to the community. Though struggling to gain a Blue Card, he successfully completed the course in 2021 and became an encouraging and motivational employee at AFL Cape York House.

Receiving support and excellent feedback from his teachers, Brendan also became an inspirational speaker at the annual Closing the Gap event at the Cairns campus.

“The teachers were awesome. They could see how badly I wanted it. I still have a connection with them – I still go to them for guidance now," Brendan said.

This week he's returning to TAFE Queensland to celebrate the launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) 2021-2023, and share with the audience his story of success.

TAFE Queensland’s RAP is a framework for the organisation to influence and support reconciliation. Improving educational outcomes for First Nations peoples is a key strategy within the plan, with education being a key factor to improving quality of life for First Nations peoples.

“Someone once said to me ‘knowledge is power’. If you have the right support, anything is possible. I am always telling these kids to go to school or TAFE to learn – that is a step on the path where you want to go. Life is about steps,” he said.

“We need Indigenous people learning and in teaching jobs. I always say if you want to change the wheel then you need to be part of it. I am just a spoke in the wheel. Education is what gets us in the wheel. It is great that TAFE Queensland is taking real and measurable steps to ensure education is accessible for everyone.”

Brendan says more study is definitely on the cards in the future, which may include a venture into the wellbeing and mental health space.

“People keep telling me I would be good at that because I’ve been there, I’ve hit rock bottom, I know what it is like and I chose to live. It’s been difficult but I have learnt that every feeling will pass – you just need to the ride the wave until it does.”

At TAFE Queensland, we know the power of training and skills and we are in a privileged position to enable our students to change their lives and achieve their career aspirations.