Mishalia Birch - Mishalia Birch Story

Torres News Column: Pushing the envelope for Indigenous people – Mishalia Birch’s story

I write a weekly column for my local paper; The Torres News. The column is called Ailan Yarns (translates to Island Chats) and it focuses on sharing positive stories from within the community. It also shines a light on local issues to give the community a chance to voice their opinions. Enjoy.

Published in The Torres News
Printed: 27th July 2018
Author: Kantesha Takai

From the moment she started university, Mishalia Birch has been pushing the envelope for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Finishing school in 2010, Mishalia graduated from Tagai State College and was accepted into the University of Queensland (UQ) to complete a dual degree in Business Management and Journalism at their St Lucia campus in Brisbane.

“Moving down to Brisbane was hard, I was worried about getting homesick and not knowing anyone at uni.”

In High School, Mishalia was always involved in groups and programs. So, when she arrived at UQ, she naturally sought out a group or society to join to help her transition into uni life.

Being so far from home, Mishalia wanted to join an Indigenous Student Society to surround herself with other Indigenous students and to feel more comfortable. She found out about the Goorie Berrimpa student group (meaning meeting place) but it was dormant at the time.

“I had a yarn with another student about the Goorie Berrimpa student group, but found out it was inactive because the UQ Union had no one to run it.”

So instead of joining a society, Mishalia and two of her peers decided to reinvigorate one and have it available to all of the Indigenous students at UQ.

“Looking back, being involved with Goorie Berrimpa was my way of surviving uni. I made most of my uni friendships through the society and it was a great social network.”

Goorie Berrimpa is now a Standing Committee to the University of Queensland Union Council for Indigenous students. And, Mishalia revived Goorie Berrimpa whilst studying full-time and completing a cadetship with the Indigenous Land Corporation.

“We [Goorie Berrimpa] had a lot of things that we wanted to do. But, the first year was primarily about getting the word out there to build a community. We hosted a lot of little events for people to attend, network and chat. We then eventually brought staff along too. This made it easier for students to build relationships with UQ staff, and access them when having a hard time or in need of extra support.”

Mishalia sat as the co-president of Goorie Berrimpa and was always looking for more ways to support and help Indigenous students in three key areas; social and community involvement, physical recreation and professional development. Goorie Berrimpa went on to organise inter-university sporting matches, Q&A sessions with Indigenous professionals excelling in their careers and was actively involved in the orientation of new Indigenous students at the university.

With funding from UQ, they were also able to send an Indigenous student team to compete in the National Indigenous Tertiary Education Student Games. This has since become an annual tradition for the society.

As its membership grew, Goorie Berrimpa became a staple sanctuary and social network for Indigenous students at UQ. In fact, a faculty member credited Goorie Berrimpa as an indirect contributor to the increase in Indigenous student retention at the university.

“Goorie Berrimpa has also been a place for Indigenous students to confide in one another, especially when we’re struggling with homesickness, issues back at home or assignments.”

In 2013, the committee held the first UQ NAIDOC Gala Dinner with students, faculty, corporate and special guests in attendance. There were speeches, awards and the success of the event earnt its place in the UQ history books.

“That first Gala put Goorie Berrimpa back on the radar and solidified our presence at UQ. And, the UQ NAIDOC Gala Dinner is now an annual event at the university. It’s a great way for students to network with prospective employers, meet faculty members and mingle with each other.”

Today, Goorie Berrimpa has over 300 members and has had more Torres Strait Islander co-presidents, including Tionne Seden and Lachlan Bon (current co-presiden).

“It nice to know that if other students from the Torres Strait attend UQ, Goorie Berrimpa is there to be a home away from home while they’re adjusting to uni life.”

Mishalia found her passion of helping Indigenous people and she carried this passion and drive with her into her career.

After graduating from UQ, Mishalia decided to pursue a graduate program with Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), an organisation that aims to help Indigenous people purchase their first homes, attain assets and start businesses.

“During my Graduate Program, I had to complete three rotations across different areas of the organisation, and I also did a secondment with the Westpac sustainability team in Sydney.”

Since completing her graduate program, Mishalia now works full-time with IBA, in their Strategy and Innovation team as an Advisor of Organisational Performance and Impact Reporting.

Mishalia works in a niche reporting area and looks after the social impact reporting for IBA’s assets and subsidiaries within their investment portfolio, finance products as well as IBA’s non-financial KPIs organisation wide.

She has been lucky enough to have worked on a range of projects, including the IBA Strategic Plan, the Indigenous Investment Principles and the early stages of the iconic Strong Women, Strong Business Conference that took place in April.

Mishalia continues to help and support Indigenous people in any way that she can.

Too deadly Mishi. Eso for sharing your story.

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