Jeffrey Farrell is a distinguished Clontarf alumnus and employee of the Fortescue team.
A member of the Clontarf Academy (Waterford, WA) Graduating Class of 2002, Jeff has been a trailblazer for young Aboriginal men. This is his story.
“My Clontarf journey started at Geraldton Secondary High School with an announcement over the PA system asking Aboriginal boys to meet in the Year 12 common room at noon. This was a bit of a big deal, as I was just a Year 10 at the time and had never been in the Year 12 common room. Once there, we soon found out that we going to have Gerard Neesham, CEO from the Clontarf Foundation, talk with us. Gerard spoke about his idea to offer young Aboriginal men strong coaching and access to a lot of football, however we had to commit to moving to Perth and studying hard at Clontarf Aboriginal College.
Intrigued, that afternoon I went home and discussed the idea with both my parents. Within weeks, we were busy sorting out my enrolment and booking a room at a hostel close to the school. It seemed to happen quickly, but upon reflection, I was already building on my leadership skills within both my family and sporting arenas.
If I had stayed in Geraldton, I would have been at risk of following the all too familiar path of an Aboriginal teenager in a small town, so this offer was a no-brainer. This just felt like the next step to take.
My first year at Clontarf changed my life. It was a positive environment where marginalised young men were made to feel comfortable, empowered and valued. At the same time, it showed us that there was a massive group of non-Indigenous people out there, in the form of corporate partners, who wanted to give up their time and energy to see us succeed.
Initially we were all blinded by the football and what we wanted to achieve on the field. We built strong routines with awesome coaches and mentors like Gerard, Ben Allen and Simon Nimmo. Once settled into our class and sport routines, we were rounded up for a chat in the school library. I remember this as clear as if it had happened yesterday. Now, you must remember that this was a group of 25 fifteen to eighteen-year old’s who would have normally clashed due to being from different parts of the state. But in that room, we shared our dreams.
Obviously, we discussed our footy hopes and ambitions of wanting to be nationally renowned for being a strong, disciplined, tough team, but then we got onto our life goals and ambitions. With this conversation, we said all the usual things, like owning our own house and car, with a wife and kids when the time was right. And maybe top it off with a boat, a jet ski or motorbike.
We then spent the rest of the afternoon discussing how we would achieve all this and put our goals up on posters within the academy room. That afternoon I left, knowing for a fact that if that group of 25 young men went about things the right way, we were going to change the landscape for Aboriginal people forever. And that was how I approached my next three years of high school.
With this attitude and the environment I was in, high school was an amazing time for me and I made lifelong friends. On field, we had great achievements with a growing list of AFL draftees, multiple state representatives and a long list of WAFL Colts participants. This success saw our enrolments go from 25 in our first year to well over 100 in the second year. At that point, we were on a winner.
At the end of Year 12, my footy dream of being drafted didn’t come true, so it was off to university for me where I started a bridging course. At this point I was bouncing around between staying with family in their shed, staying with my then girlfriend at her mother’s place, and sometimes even her cousin’s house. Mum and dad had split up and neither were in Perth. Life was very unstable and to add to this, I found out I was going to be a father. With this news, I went back to the Clontarf team and asked for help.
I was matched to a job with a partner company in Wesfarmers and given a bunch of baby clothes by Clontarf legend, the late Brad Puls.
The ‘Clonny’ crew set up a country footy team for me to join which saw me being paid to play. This allowed me to rent a small unit to start my family. The level of support offered by the Clontarf Foundation post-graduation was just as important to me as what they offered during the three years I spent there as a student. The men and women in these roles are a group of people who are singlehandedly contributing to changing lives for the better, forever.
After three years with Wesfarmers as a computer technician, the need to move out of the city became too strong. My support network was limited to just my amazing aunty and grandmother, and I had separated from the mother of my children, so I knew I needed a drastic change. It was a painful decision to leave my son, but I knew I had to do it or I would have wasted the next 10 years. Luckily for me, my mum was living in Eneabba and I picked up some labouring work washing equipment on the local mineral sands mine. This lasted for about five months until I was approached by the local footy team.
By agreeing to play for them, they would in turn assist me with securing a boilermaking apprenticeship. I was lucky enough to land the apprenticeship with another Clontarf partner company in Iluka Resources, so it was footy and Clonny to the rescue again.
Since becoming a tradie I have been fortunate to work all over WA, including places like Kununurra, Dampier, Pinjarra and Newman. These opportunities have all led to my current eight-year journey within Fortescue where I started as a Boilermaker on on the floor, then moved onto Fabrication Supervisor, Live Work Reduction Specialist, Aboriginal Development Superintendent and to now, where I’m transitioning into the role of Principal Advisor, First Nations Policy.
Today I live a comfortable life with structure and balance which can be difficult for Aboriginal people in the western world. I work hard to make the most of the opportunities my old people never had. I am happily married to my primary school sweetheart and we have six beautiful children who keep us on our toes as we try to be the best parents possible for our babies. We are working to purchase our second property and every day I reflect on my journey, under no illusion of just how lucky I am. The love and support of my parents, aunties, uncles and of course grandparents have made me to be who I am today.
The Clontarf Foundation instilled in me a drive to succeed, ambition to work hard and gave me an environment where I had both guidance, support and the opportunity to fulfil those original goals I set for myself way back in my first year at Clontarf.
I love getting back to any of the Clonny academies and seeing the amazing work that is now happening across the nation, with the hope that there is a bunch of impressionable teenagers out there about to embark on the same journey our group did and that they all can carve out a very similar life to the one I have for myself.”