Leon Oriti

Leon’s Story

100 Days of Deadly Mob

Leon Oriti, Bardi and Karrajari on my mother’s side

I was raised my whole life in Perth. My Aboriginality comes from my mother who is from the Kimberley region. Unfortunately she passed away 2 years after I was born, though left me with a gigantic extended family who share their stories and her love. She was the first in her family to complete tertiary education with a degree in teaching in 1981 and this certainly set the precedent that I also had to follow suit.

In 2007 when I was about to enter year 12 I heard about the opportunity to attend the Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School (IAESS) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. It was a week long ‘live in’ program which showed engineering from the classroom to the construction site.

The program which was in its 10th year, had been set up by the late Jeff Dobell who himself was an engineer. The story goes that he went looking for Civil Engineers and had asked Sydney University, being the oldest Australian university, how many engineers with an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background had graduated from the institution. The answer he received was “one”, which led to the program being set up to inspire high school students in their final years of high school across the country.

To me, the thought of studying engineering hadn’t really occurred at this point. I didn’t know any engineers and had very low/no visibility on what they did, so you can imagine my surprise when I enrolled to be one.

My biggest inspiration into the field was the idea that engineering at its core is all about problem solving. Choosing which problem you want to solve is up to you and isn’t restrained to buildings or bridges, but can include social development. Providing food, water, shelter and electricity fall under the responsibility of engineers.

As a high school student graduating in 2007 against the backdrop of Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and the government’s intervention into the Northern Territory I was satisfied that I had plenty of problems at hand, problems which in 2017 still don’t have solutions. The idea of joining a field that can contribute on a local to a global level was something that resonated with me as a teenager and still inspires me today.