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INSPIRING: TAFE NSW Shellharbour youth work graduate Steve Bastian proudly displays his Gilli Award.
Steve Bastian’s moment of truth came as he stood in the dock of a Wollongong courtroom looking into the abyss of three years in prison.
His young life had been scarred by poverty, family dysfunction, intergenerational trauma and a tendency to violence after drinking alcohol.
And now here he was, given a stark ultimatum by a magistrate: “go to rehab or go to prison”.
Mr Bastian chose the former, triggering a life-changing series of events that, a decade on, saw him recognised as an inspiring Aboriginal role model at the 2021 Gilli Awards.
The Albion Park dad-of-four, a proud Yorta Yorta man, was last month awarded the prestigious Health Wellbeing and Community Services Student of the Year at the awards, aimed at celebrating TAFE NSW Aboriginal student achievement.
Mr Bastian, 38, completed a Certificate IV in Youth Work at TAFE NSW Shellharbour last year and is now enrolled in a Diploma of Youth Work, recently finishing up a stint as an Indigenous Youth Access Clinician at Headspace Wollongong. He is deeply passionate about mentoring at-risk Aboriginal children and teens to help them get the guidance he didn’t receive at the same age.
He said TAFE NSW played a “huge part” in giving him the skills, knowledge and confidence to change careers – and lives.
“The Gilli Award was so overwhelming … it’s the biggest achievement of my life,” Mr Bastian said. “I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of my TAFE NSW teachers.”
Mr Bastian’s difficult early years were punctuated by a discovery when he was 12 years old that he was Aboriginal.
“My education wasn’t the best; I was never a school person,” he said. “I was always getting into fights or getting suspended. I was put in the too-hard basket and it’s the same with a lot of the kids I work with.”
He had a short but successful amateur boxing career and became a dad at 17, working a series of short-term labouring jobs to support his family. But the demons from his childhood would surface when he drank alcohol, and his rap sheet was growing.
After a court-mandated stint in rehab, Mr Bastian emerged a new man, meeting his future wife Marcela and kicking his addiction to heavy drinking. While working as a bus driver for the Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation, he discovered an affinity with Aboriginal youth.
“I really built that trust with the kids I was transporting and I realised I could actually have a career in youth work,” he said. “They started letting me sit in on mentoring sessions and I knew I needed some qualifications so enrolled at TAFE NSW.”
He said helping young Aboriginal people “break the chain” and reconnect with their community was now his life’s purpose and he has aspirations to complete a Bachelor of Social Work.
TAFE NSW Shellharbour youth work teacher Berenice Murphy said Mr Bastian was a credit to his community and the profession.
“Steve is a great example of what you can achieve with the right support and engagement,” Ms Murphy said. “He struggled to turn on a computer when he first came to TAFE NSW but now has the practical skills to change his own life and the lives of so many others in his community. He really is a great leader.”
To learn more about studying youth work at TAFE NSW, visit www.tafensw.edu.au or call 13 14 01.
Media contact: Daniel Johns, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist, (02) 6938 1441, mobile 0477 722 428