Course cures writers block

“Mum, I can’t wait to grow up and go to uni, I want to study astronomy.”

Those were sweet words of affirmation from Morwell resident Sascha Johnston’s 12-year-old son following her graduation from a university-level scholarship program.

“He’s never spoken like that before, but just seeing me up there and getting my certificate and seeing all the other mums and students, something must have made him quite excited about it,” Ms Johnston said.

The Clemente Scholarship program is facilitated by Federation University in Gippsland and allows students for whom tertiary education has passed them by to complete four 12-week university-level courses over a period of two to three years.

Tertiary education had always seemed out of reach for Mrs Johnston.

“I came from a very dysfunctional family that was probably caused by my father’s alcoholism,” she said.

“I left school early and then was a teenage mum. From that point on, I basically just worked and got by and that was it, all my dreams were finished.”

One of the four courses Ms Johnston completed with the Clemente program was creative writing, which she said reawakened her childhood love of writing.

“I had written a story for creative writing. It didn’t have to be fiction, so I just thought about something in my own life and I wrote it all out, which was something I’d never done before,” she said.

“It was a short story about some childhood circumstances and what it is like sometimes when you have a lot of difficulties as a child and how you can overcome it.

“It was quite therapeutic, actually, to write it all out.”

Ms Johnston said a friend read the story and encouraged her to sumbit it to web-based publishing source AusLit BlackWords, which compiles works from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers and storytellers, which she did. Now has her story published on the site.

“I’m really proud of that,” she said.

“I always loved writing as a kid, always. But when you get bogged down with everything, just trying to get over your issues and then you’re a mum yourself and you’re working, I’d forgotten that I love to write.”

Ms Johnston said she was considering further tertiary study with Federation University.

“I definitely want to pursue writing into the future … I don’t know what form or how, but that is something I really want to do.”

Federation University lecturer Joanie Smith said the university absorbed the fees for Clemente students and that a number of Clemente students had gone on to complete degrees at the university.

“We’re starting to see some of our graduates come out the other end, which is really exciting,” she said.

Dr Smith said education was the key to intergenerational, transformative change and to real, personal empowerment.

“Mums will go home and do their homework, and the kids will get their books out and sit there and do it, so it becomes something they share.”

Dr Smith said FedUni was looking for potential Clemente Scholarship applicants and volunteer learning partners to assist students through their studies.

For more information, phone Dr Smith at 5122 8345 or email