HARRIS, Catherine


Bachelor of Arts (Humanities & Social Sciences)

Graduation year


Current position

Regional Coordinator


Victoria Daly Shire Council Youth Engagement Program

2016 Young Alumna of the Year

Nomination category

Outstanding professional achievement and outstanding service to the community


Catherine’s passion for working with children and families has led to improvement in community programs and better outcomes for those in remote communities.

Catherine’s efforts have ensured that people in remote areas are able to access support, training and skills development to provide them with the opportunity to be more self-sufficient and enable them to improve their social and economic situations.

Catherine has also worked with out-of-home children who have been removed from their families and were considered at risk of further harm or self-harm.  She is committed to improving the circumstances of young people across the Katherine region in the Northern Territory.

She is Chairperson of the Community and Culture committee and coordinator of the Student Representative Council for the School Improvement and Renewal Framework team, and leads programs and events such as Multicultural Day, Families Welcome Day and much more. Catherine now works as a teacher, supporting students from remote communities to access mainstream education which also improves the rate of successful transitions from school to employment.

Life after UB - article by Catherine Harris

My undergrad years at UB were fantastic and I learnt so much to take into my career. I was also given the opportunity to grow as a person, overcome my fears and had my beliefs constantly challenged.

If not for my Bachelor of Arts I would not be in the career I love now. My work in the Northern Territory (NT) started in 2011 when I commenced work for a non Government organisation (NGO) in the remote indigenous community of Wadeye, NT, as a youth worker. The time spent in this community was the best five months of my life and my indigenous studies from UB prepared me, as much as anything could, for living in a community with such a reputation as Wadeye.

After the NGO pulled out of Wadeye I commenced work in local government in NT where I became and still am, the Regional Coordinator for the Victoria Daly Shire Council's Youth Engagement Program. The Youth Engagement Program, funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) through the Indigenous Coordination Centre (ICC), was new to our Shire and it was my responsibility to build it from the ground up, develop key performance indicators in line with funding requirements, allocate budgets, implement reporting strategies, procedures, operational manuals, develop strategic plans, and ensure that the program ran in line with our community needs.

The Shire I work for covers 168000 square km of remote outback NT, I have a staff of 13 youth workers who live on ground across eight major service centres. Our Shire's population is around 7000 people 98%
indigenous, with over 50% being under 25 years. Our program delivers a wide range of fun activities covering very serious topics, giving youth the opportunity to change their lives in areas such as:

  • Mental, physical and sexual health,
  • nutrition,
  • alcohol and other drugs,
  • gambling
  • education and training
  • self esteem and leadership
  • Small business enterprise (money management)

The youth in our communities include those who are disengaged, early school leavers, youth at risk, teenage mums and dads and juvenile offenders on community development orders.

The Youth Engagement Program also works in closely with other Community Services areas within our Shire such as our Sport and
Recreation Program, Remote Indigenous Broadcasting Program, Aged Care and Women's and Children's Program along with other agencies also working in communities.

Our Shire would welcome any university students interested in doing work experience or volunteering in our community services team especially assisting youth engagement. Although our work is challenging it is extremely rewarding.

The Victoria Daly Shire Council, where I now work, believes strongly in youth being the future of our communities and rely on our youth to inform us on the changes they want to see occurring in communities. We operate under the guidelines of:-

  • Community ownership
  • Community control over aims, outcomes and methods,
  • Community driven development in which local people provide leadership

Also including project based community development, community capacity building and participatory planning meaning handing over the stick in which local people generate outcomes and learn, while raising self awareness. The sharing of knowledge is strongly encouraged as learning is a two way street.
There is a lot of emphasis on the local people as the experts and teachers with Victoria Daly Shire staff there to assist, guide and support youth to achieve the outcomes they want.

I remember words from my graduation speech in 2010 and believe that all graduates should keep these in mind when considering future careers. The first is a quote from my favourite author Raymond E Feist -

Fear holds us and binds us and keeps us from growing.
It holds us to what we know and keeps us from what is
possible, and it is our worst enemy.

We all have rational reasons to avoid taking risks but to succeed you must risk total failure.

The second wise words are something I believe we should hold dear to ourselves - that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to make a change.

Whether this be on a national or international level or within our own families we all have the chance to do great things and become great people. As university graduates we should consider how we can make the most of our qualifications but more importantly the learning does not stop once you finish your degree.

The role I have in the Victoria Daly Shire and the Shire's role in our communities in general is huge but vital. It is challenging but one of the most rewarding things you can do. Often I am asked why I do what I do and sometimes how can I do what I do especially being a young female? The smiles on a youth's face when they experience something new, the high fives you get when walking down the street and the general excitement you create when providing worthwhile activities for youth (and any community member) is why I do what I do.

I recently had to write to someone about who was my most inspirational teacher growing up in either primary or secondary school. I answered no-one. It was my uni lecturers at UB who inspired me to be everything I could be -

Anne Beggs Sunter, Fred Cahir, Jeremy Smith, Kate Simons and of course John Morris.

Catherine Harris photo number 2 Catherine Harris photo number 3

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