Liza-Marie Francis, 32, is a proud Noongar Yorga woman from South Western Australia on Wajuk Country. A mother to 4 Koolangas (children) who also cares for her Ngangk (mother), she is paving a new way for generations that stand before her.
After completing a Certificate III in Individual Support, she is the first woman in her family to hold a qualification – which she is using to give back to her family and community.
Raised in an Aboriginal community, Liza’s story has been influenced as a result of Government Policies which lead to the Stolen Generations.
“My family has never been able to find our connection to mob. My mother and grandmother are part of the Stolen Generations; my mum was raised in institutions and in foster care,” she said.
“I dropped out at school at Year 8 because I didn’t have a stable home, I couldn’t get to school or get transport, but then I went back at Year 11 to try and finish it.”
Making a career move for the future
Liza moved to Queensland with her two children in 2011 for a fresh start where she met her current partner, and her mother moved shortly after.
“I got into cleaning through an Indigenous organisation in Brisbane and then moved to Kilcoy before moving to Caboolture [still] working in housekeeping and bond cleaning.”
It was in Caboolture where she joined the local Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS) and saw a chance to work with people and elders with disability.
“I kept thinking I can’t do this (cleaning) forever, so when I changed my doctors to the Morayfield clinic, and I saw the poster for the course I thought, just do it – don’t think about it. I wasn’t sure if I’d even turn up but that was just me talking myself out of it.”
“My motivating factor was I wanted to further my career; I didn’t want to keep on cleaning. I wanted to do something to support my mum, to help her as she ages when that time comes. I want to be able to give her the best care I can.”
Face your fear and do it anyway
Facing her self-doubt and social anxiety Liza turned up for her first day at the course being led by the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) at its Morayfield clinic with 18 other new students.
“I could tell from the first day the atmosphere was going to be great. Even though I was worried I would forget everything and not even be able to recall my own notes or do the book work, but Karen and John and the other ladies we have just formed a strong bond and support network, I haven’t had that in a long while.”
“People are not scared to talk up or asked questions. When I was in school, I never spoke up but here the environment is where you can open up and be yourself.”
“Before the course I didn’t want to talk to people, but I felt comfortable to speak up and have my say. I really tried to break out of my comfort zone.”
“Even going up to customer houses; I never would have knocked on my neighbours’ door before, but we have to go knock on doors of clients every day. I used to be very sensitive because of my history so I’ve had to unlearn and relearn some of those things. That has been as much of an achievement as earning my Certificate.”
“It blows me away that one step I took to come here, it’s taken me while to form my new self and my confidence to get to this point.”
Determination and gratitude a winning combination
Liza completed her placement hours with IUIH with determination after hitting roadblocks with her original placement at a mainstream service provider. With IUIH she got the support and community connection that she needed.
“I spent so much time really trying to get my placement completed [before IUIH] so it really knocked me for six when it didn’t work out – it put me back about three weeks.”
“With IUIH, it just helped me slow things down do it at my own pace and was less cold-facing and clinical. I was able to let elders know that I care, I’m here to help them it’s not just because I’m getting paid.”
As well as her mother being her motivation to pursue her studies Liza loves to connect with the community and her clients.
“I show as much respect as I can and ask questions. I ask them how they like things done as everybody has a preference. It’s about everybody having a choice. I can’t expect people to come into my house and do things their way.”
“I’ve watched a lot of elder abuse and that has hurt me, so knowing I can be that person to help; a lot of Elders don’t have that.”
“What some of my clients have gone through is so much, even my mum and nan, I have so much to be grateful for. If we young ones get the chance to sit down and listen to them, it’s a real learning experience.”
Liza completed her Certificate III Individual Support in March of 2022 and with her new-found confidence sees more study and career opportunities on the horizon.
“I am so happy where I am. I’m in a great spot and maybe in a couple of years I’ll think about doing nursing or health administration to set me up into something faster-paced for when I’m older.”
“I’m just doing this because if I don’t my kids won’t do it, and I don’t want them to limit themselves. I never had someone show me the way growing up, so I’m just trying to break the mold and create another generation.”
“It’s hard working through generational trauma but it’s about backing yourself and just believing in yourself.”
Liza-Marie will find out if her nomination has been successful in June.