Good News Story - Dandjoo Darbalung – A Pioneering and Inventive Project


St Catherine’s College is situated in Perth and is a residential college of 440 tertiary students from 38 different countries. The mission of the College is to address equity of access in higher education and it is home to students from all five universities in Perth. It has a specific commitment to improving tertiary education outcomes for Indigenous students through a bespoke wrap-around program called Dandjoo Darbalung.

Named by Noel Nannup, Dandjoo Darbalung means ‘mixing together’ in the way fresh and salt water mix in the Swan estuary where the college is located in Crawley. The program was established in 2012 to support Indigenous students with their tertiary studies whilst encouraging and nurturing their cultural identities and preparing them for employment, post-graduation.

Indigenous students who are members of the Dandjoo Darbalung program have achieved remarkable results through their various degree programs and succeeded in acquiring employment with top-tier companies and organisations.

A snapshot of the outcomes of the Dandjoo Darbalung program:

  • 100 Indigenous students enrolled across all tertiary institutions in Perth
  • 150 alumni who nurture and inspire the current student cohort
  • 90% retention rate (the national average is less than 50%)
  • 78% pass rate
  • 33 cadetships per year with prospective employers
  • Scholarship and financial assistance for almost every student
  • Elders, senior Indigenous women and men guide all cultural aspects of the program and nurture student development
  • Indigenous students mentor in rural and remote communities, running cultural leadership programs for school-age children and promoting higher education pathways

A Building about Identity

With the success of the program came the need for a dedicated building that really supported learning and opportunities for cultural development. In a collaborative funding arrangement with both the federal and state governments, the college was able to secure $12.8 million to build a custom-designed facility comprising of 54 new rooms, a beautiful Cultural Centre, living and learning facilities, an exhibition and performance area and a large Banksia-shaped yarning circle. The architecture references Indigenous principles of landscape and country, acknowledging the importance of identity derived from place.

Essentially, this project has the capacity to change lives and positively impact educational outcomes for both young Indigenous people and the wider residential community. It embraces aspiration and innovation and shines the spotlight on a successful program, which, at its heart, celebrates cultural identity in what is the longest surviving continuous culture on this planet.

If you would like to know more about partnering with the program, supporting scholarships or creating employment opportunities, please contact Ben Lewis at 9442 0594.


The Cultural Centre is used daily to study, congregate, practice culture, relax and create art works.

The Tower houses a very beautiful fire pit at the apex which is used for weekly yarning circles and is a replica of the College emblem, the Banksia.

Acknowledgement of Country

The Committee For Perth acknowledges the traditional custodians throughout Western Australia and their continuing connection to the land, waters and community. We pay our respects to all members of the Aboriginal communities and their cultures; and to Elders both past and present.