BOXER Lionel Rose was a born leader. He became the first indigenous Australian to win a world title while still in his teens and was later a singer and successful businessman.
But while Aborigines such as Rose were sporting legends they were not encouraged to stay at school, according to the general manager of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association, Lionel Bamblett.
''The late, great Lionel Rose was a highly intelligent man and gifted athlete. He could have been anything from a scientist to a High Court judge, but he was never encouraged in the academic field,'' he said.
For years Mr Bamblett toyed with the idea of creating a program for future Koori leaders. ''We've played catch-up with remedial programs but I wanted to look at building on people's strengths. There are kids in the northern suburbs who have those leadership qualities and with a bit of extra effort they could grow and flourish in any area.''
This week Mr Bamblett's vision was realised with the launch of the Koori Academy of Excellence, aimed at nurturing the potential of the next generation of indigenous leaders. The students will only attend the academy after school, on weekends and during holidays.
The first 30 students were selected from 12 schools in Melbourne's northern suburbs. They will be assigned mentors from their chosen field at La Trobe University, participate in cultural activities, camps, theatre and sporting events and work with a Koori liaison officer.
Education Minister Martin Dixon said the academy was designed to help students complete their secondary education and inspire them to pursue university, tertiary study or employment. ''Statistics show nearly a third of Koori students in the [northern suburbs] who start year 9 are no longer in the secondary education system for the start of the following year. This attrition rate climbs to almost 50 per cent by the middle of year 10,'' Mr Dixon said.
The students have already attended a camp at the Gnurad Gundidj School for Student Leadership in the Western District, where they visited Framlingham Mission and were addressed by Aboriginal filmmaker Richard Frankland.
Meanwhile, the government is yet to decide the fate of the three remaining Koori pathways schools in Swan Hill, Mildura and Morwell.