Off Country

NITV's fresh new doco series follows Indigenous students who leave family for their shot at the prestigious Geelong Grammar.

Imagine leaving your family in Darwin or the Kimberley at the age of 12 to become a boarding student in Victoria.

But Geelong Grammar is not just any school.

It counts amongst its elite graduates Prince Charles, Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, John Fairfax, Malcolm Fraser, John Gorton, Alexander Downer, Charles Perkins, Missy Higgins, Portia de Rossi, Marta Dusseldorp, Simon Holmes à Court, Tim Burstall, mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape, Helen Garner, Malaysian King Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu.

It also offers the most amount of Indigenous scholarships in Australia, making it a perfect backdrop for NITV’s new factual series Off Country.

The 4 part series produced by Brown Cabs Productions, Letterbox Films, and Goodthing Productions follows 7 First Nations students as they leave their families for formative teenage years in a new environment.

“The only thing stopping me from going home is this amazing opportunity,” says Year 7 student Chloe from Pittsworth, Qld.

She is one of several Indigenous students who has endured comments, even bullying, around the colour of her skin -mostly from others who question her light skin.

Year 12 student Zoe, who was cruelly nicknamed “25%”, was once told she was “white passing.”

“No-one would believe me,” Year 12 student Jaycee adds, “I know I’m Aboriginal. I know who I am, I know who my family is and my tribe.”

But Geelong Grammar has its first Indigenous school captain in 165 years. Sunny, who comes from a sheep grazing family in Swan Hill, has proven what is possible -even if he is tough on himself to do well in class.

“The only pressure I feel is from myself…” he explains. “The only thing stopping me is me at the moment.”

The school encourages its student to ‘drive your own education’ which it pursues through academia, sport and social activities.

Cameras also follow students to Timbertop, the high country camp where the finer things in life are abandoned for camping and hiking. There’s even a 33km marathon at the end of the year (staff explain such a task is worked upon gradually throughout the year).

It’s hard not to be impressed by Xyz, a teen from Bairnsdale, who is wise beyond his years. He has never met his father, left his mother’s care at the age of 8 to live with his grandmother, and his aunt recently committed suicide (statistically 4 times higher in the Indigenous community).

“I saw things that no youngster should really see….” he reveals.

But it’s not all hard viewing. The spirit of the students is resilient and the 7 are brave to adopt a new environment at such tender ages.

Even Tahlia’s father wants his daughter to take up politics -she has her heart set on publishing. I hope she makes it happen.

Off Country screens 8pm Thursdays on NITV.

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