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10 December, 2020

Aunty Fiona's Yarrabah dream comes true

AFTER a distinguished career in Rugby League, Johnathon Thurston felt a calling to work with indigenous youth, providing education, cultural and employment opportunities.

By Peter McCullagh

Johnathon Thurston and Aunty Fiona

The Johnathon Thurston Academy is the fruit of his passion. Established three years ago and harnessing support from the corporate community, the Academy has set about changing lives, building confidence and empowering those working within the programs.

The latest ‘jewel’ would have to be the opening of a new community building in Yarrabah allowing young girls to pursue their dreams.

The purpose-built building in Yarrabah was opened this week in honour of much-loved Elder Aunty Fiona Patterson to provide a welcoming space for the community’s young female residents to continue their ongoing learning and reach their full potential.

The JTBelieve building was made possible thanks to Lendlease and Ausco Modular who donated the building to the Johnathan Thurston Academy, in honour of Aunty Fiona.

Aunty Fiona has spent almost 20 years supporting the community’s young people through her work at the local school, church, as a Community Police Liaison Officer and recently as the Johnathan Thurston Academy (JT Academy) JTBelieve Officer for the federally-funded JTBelieve program in the Yarrabah community.

JT Academy Managing Director Johnathan Thurston said Aunty Fiona had been instrumental over the past few years in supporting young people in Yarrabah to engage in their learning, school engagement and encouraging them to chase their dreams and reach their full potential.

“The idea for a dedicated space for Yarrabah’s young women was always Aunty Fiona’s dream,” Johnathan said. “She has always wanted to create a welcoming and safe place where they could continue their learning – a place to call their own.  

“We could not have done this without the wonderful support of our major employment partner Lendlease and Ausco Modular. Thank you for your extraordinary contribution in donating this building.

“Thanks also to Yarrabah Aboriginal Shire Council and Yarrabah State School for your ongoing support of young women in your community.

“For the past few years, Aunty Fiona has been a valued team member of our Academy and has done such an incredible job in supporting young people to chase their dreams,” Johnathan said. “I’m so proud that we could do this for Aunty Fiona as she has given so much over the years; and this is our way to say thank you.

“The building provides a great opportunity to continue Aunty Fiona’s amazing work in supporting the younger generation of the Yarrabah community, in delivering the JTBelieve program. Thanks to her, young women will continue to have a light shone on them for years to come.”

To learn more about the JTAcademy and the JTBelieve program head to their website:

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