THE 13th of September 2011 is a date that will long live in the memory of Port Adelaide Director of Aboriginal Programs Paul Vandenbergh.

It was the day he realised that despite an industry-leading suite of educational programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, there were still gaps that the club wanted to address.

He formulated a plan for an Aboriginal Centre of Excellence, which would provide a nurturing educational and accommodation space for students to get the best out of themselves.

Vandenbergh’s dream is now a step closer to reality with a pledge of $5 million in funding by the Labor Party, if elected at the upcoming Federal Election, towards the centre.

“I’ve got that exact date marked in my calendar,” Vandenbergh said of that date more than seven years ago.

“It’s been a long journey but I’m just really excited about today.

“I think this centre has a lot of opportunities to talk about what a new Australia could look like when you bring both cultures together.

“It’s been a dream. I’ve seen that there are gaps in our programs that we need to fill and I think this centre will play that role perfectly.

The Aboriginal Centre of Excellence will help close the gap for Indigenous youth by providing an inspiring educational and cultural experience for Aboriginal students from all over South Australia.

Students will be able to reach their full potential residing either full time or in short stays at the Centre while attending school, with additional programs focused on culture and identity, resilience, wellbeing, health and fitness, respectful relationships and life choices.

The Aboriginal Centre of Excellence will be dedicated to helping young Aboriginal students prepare for life after school where it will partner with educational institutions and future employers to ensure that these students are well placed to take advantage of the employment opportunities that lie ahead in South Australia. 

The funding announcement was made on Harmony Day, and less than a week out from national Closing the Gap day.

Port Adelaide CEO Keith Thomas said the centre would build upon the work the club already does in the Indigenous space

“We are very committed to outcomes and our programs have evolved towards ensuring that not only do kids succeed at school but that they go on into meaningful work,” said Port Adelaide CEO Keith Thomas.

“That’s not just a dream either. Last year we placed around 80 of our program attendees into some form of tertiary education or work as part of our commitment.

“I was talking to Andy Keogh of SAAB, which is a partner of ours, and he said one of their responsibilities is to light the fire of imagination in kids towards the areas of science and technology and these sorts of things and to move away from the boring old stereotypes that exist because they will be the jobs of the future.

“We think the centre will be devoted to those sorts of experiences and those sorts of people who are going to be generating those jobs.”

Mr Thomas has not set a timeframe for the development but said he hoped to see some form of work in 2020, the club’s 150th anniversary year.