A saltwater man follows his passion to UTS.

Yarraan Doyle has strong cultural reasons for studying marine biology.
Yarraan Doyle has strong cultural reasons for studying marine biology.

Growing up in the supportive Aboriginal community of La Perouse has given Yarraan Doyle a deep pride in his culture. “Everyone here knows their roots,” he says. “It’s a very culturally strong community. We’re coastal saltwater people. It’s part of our lifestyle, our diet, everything. You grow up fishing and diving with your cousins, your mates, even your uncles or your dad. I’ve been diving and fishing all my life – shore diving, spear fishing and stuff like that. I’ve always loved the ocean. It’s always been part of who I am.”

A passion for the ocean guided Yarraan to his studies at UTS, where he’s in second year of Bachelor of Marine Biology. He says, “When I found out about that degree, I decided it was the only thing I’d want to do. That was during my last year of high school.”

Finding a pathway to UTS
Before discovering Marine Biology, he hadn’t considered university. “I kind of scraped by at school, so university wasn’t really on my list,” he says. After he completed high school, Yarraan was introduced to the Aurora Education Foundation, an indigenous organisation that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to realise their full potential. He began working with them as a mentor in an after-school program from younger students. He says, “I can’t remember whether I found out about Jumbunna through them, or when I was searching through the UTS website, but I applied for a Jumbunna scholarship to do a Diploma of Science at UTS College. That was my pathway to uni. I finished high school in October and come March, I was doing my diploma.”

Solid support makes all the difference
His experience at UTS College helped Yarraan see his potential. “Their support was the main thing. The teachers go the extra mile to help you. After class, they’ll go through all the work you’ve just done; they’ll sit there and help you with it,” he says. “They want to see you do well. But they’re not going to hold your hand. It’s always your responsibility to go and do the work. They gave me confidence and now I know that with the right support, I can do it. I’ve come a long way, and it was a big confidence boost. From just getting passes and barely scraping by, now I’m getting Distinctions and High Distinctions.”

Yarraan says getting his first High Distinction was his best moment at university. “It was last semester, our final report for Environmental Remediation. We had to do a completely independent assessment – like a mini honours project. You had to do everything yourself and start from scratch.” That achievement taught Yarraan not to underestimate himself. He says, “I think I had an expectation that uni was going to be way harder than it actually is. I don’t think I gave myself enough credit for what I’m capable of.”

Maintaining connection to culture
A clear sense of purpose, and a strong cultural connection to his studies has helped Yarraan rise to the challenges of university. He says, “Whenever I’ve had tough times, I’ve taken a step back to remember what I’m doing it for and who I’m doing it for. That’s helped me push on.”

Yarraan’s sights are fixed on a career caring for the land he grew up on. “The country name is Gamay – also known as Botany Bay – and it’s on Dharawal and Bidjigal land,” he says, “The Northern and Western part of Botany Bay, up the Cooks River through Tempe is Bidjigal land, and Dharawal land spans La Perouse out to Campbelltown and down to Shoalhaven. There’s an organisation in La Perouse called The Gamay Rangers. They’re Sydney’s only completely indigenous-based rangers, and growing up in La Perouse, I know everyone on the team. I grew up with some of them and I’ve kept in contact over the years.”

Before he started uni, Yarraan spoke with the CEO at the Land Council, and asked him what he thought he should do. The CEO said, “If you go to uni, you can get the marine biology experience we’re going to need as a land and sea-based team. We’re not just land-management. Your expertise will definitely go a long way.”

Yarraan has already done one internship with the rangers. He says, “I saw what they do day-to-day, what kind of projects they work on and who they work with. It wasn’t a uni-based internship, but it was a huge thing for me. It created the professional connections I need.”

A confident future
Yarraan is planning another internship with The Gamay Rangers, this time as part of his degree. “I’ve kept going back and forward with them,” he says, “because when I’m finished my degree, I want to eventually join them full-time as a marine biologist.”

Looking back, Yarraan has no regrets about taking on the challenge of university. “If I hadn’t put my hand up for this, I wouldn’t be where I am, and I wouldn’t have made all the connections I have now. Going through uni has given me the confidence to know I can do it,” he says. “If I had a tip for other indigenous students, it would be to give it a go. Don’t underestimate yourself, and make sure you go somewhere like UTS College where you’ll get the support you need.”