Comms student’s Olympic-sized leap into gold medal internship | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Comms student’s Olympic-sized leap into gold medal internship 

Charlee McKinnon is one of three First Nations students selected for a paid internship with the Brisbane 2032 Games brand and emblems design team.

Studying at UniSC Moreton Bay and majoring in social media, Charlee’s driving force is the pride in her heritage, a buried history she didn’t know existed until her early teenage years.

A significant part of the Communication student's identity is her Aboriginal heritage, though she was completely unaware of it until a sudden revelation came when she was in grade six, after reconnecting with long-lost family members.

“I knew my dad was Scottish, but I always thought, I live in Australia, I’m Australian… it wasn’t something I really thought about as a child,” she says.  

“My Mum always knew she was Indigenous, but light skinned First Nations people didn’t usually openly identify in the 70s.

"My great grandma was a fringe dweller who lived on the riverbank. As a light skinned Aboriginal, she was able to hide her heritage quite easy making it difficult to know the exacts about what happened.” 

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As a young woman, Charlee's mum had a strained relationship with her dad and sisters. It wasn’t until after she rekindled with her sisters that she decided to get her children identified and involved in more cultural activities, opening up a whole new chapter and identity.

Because Charlee didn't find out her heritage until she was 12, she says it was quite a "late journey," so she took the lead from her "very inspirational" mum.

“I was able to watch mum and learn from her, and as I learned about it I thought, ‘Wow, this heritage is quite cool.’ It gave me a real sense of community.”

Charlee during her school years, learning about her culture.

Charlee says she gets many comments questioning her identity based on her appearance, which only reinforces the work still to be done around cultural awareness.  

“People often say to me, ‘Oh, you're not Aboriginal, you're too white,’ so there's a lot of progress still to do… but it's exciting that I get to help with that progress.”

It's one of the reasons Charlee jumped at the opportunity to work on such a recognisable brand where she can proudly showcase her heritage on a global stage. Charlee learned about the Brisbane 2032 Games internship from a colleague at her previous internship with Tourism Events Queensland. The opportunity seemed tailor-made for her.  

“I was reading the internship criteria which was, ‘University students studying a degree similar to marketing, Aboriginal, Gen Z,’ and I was like, ‘tick tick tick!’  

“Being the Olympics, I thought, ‘Wow, what a cool opportunity!’ So I applied for it, did a Zoom interview, and got selected.” 

Pro-Vice Chancellor (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy) Professor Joe Fraser said UniSC valued the significant and deep-rooted history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, culture, and knowledge.

"We share deep pride in, and seek to uplift, empower and give a voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and perspectives in all that we do," Professor Fraser said.

"We partner closely with communities to cultivate culturally safe environments and create opportunities that strengthen our shared bonds and enrich both our university and community."

Interns Charlee McKinnon, Luke Woods and Isabelle Eurell look over previous Olympic and Paralympic emblems, with Brisbane 2032’s Rebecca Masci (left) and VML managing director Adam Kennedy (right).

Photo credit: Lyndon Mechielsen

Charlee's role involves diverse tasks in advertising, at branding agency VML’s South Bank base, where she and her fellow interns will gain exposure to video production, social media design, and more. For Charlee, it’s the global significance of the Olympics that is most exciting.

“It's about the legacy of such an iconic global event, and from a First Nations perspective, we have this rich cultural identity that we can share with the world."

The internship goes for five months, for five half days per month, which Charlee says will fit in well with her third and final year of university.

“Studying at UniSC’s Moreton Bay campus has been great, because even though the campus has grown a lot in recent years, it’s still quite a small community which is nice for that one-on-one personal learning… all the teachers are lovely, we get along, and I really look forward to class most days,” she says.

“I’m really excited to get into working now, I’ve had the theory, so I can’t wait to get stuck into the real-life experience."

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement

UniSC is a place where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's perspectives, culture and knowledge is acknowledged, valued and respected. If you are an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person, we encourage you to join the long tradition of trailblazers at UniSC, impacting our university and our world.

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