Rory Smeaton’s VTA’s Koorie Student of the Year win in 2010 set off a whirlwind career trajectory that today continues to propel him forward.
Now the Manager of Crown Melbourne’s Indigenous Programs, Rory’s journey started with a Diploma of Youth Work (Indigenous Youth) at Swinburne University of Technology. His dedication and work ethic made him a stand-out student, and were instrumental in ultimately earning him a Victorian Training Award for his outstanding achievements in community services studies.
Rory went on to win the national award at the Australian Training Awards – an award he never thought ‘in his wildest dreams’ that he would win, given the ‘amazing’ people he was competing against. Since then he has proven just how right the judges’ selection was.
Rory has progressed from being Koorie Liaison Officer at the Kangan Institute, Indigenous Liaison Officer at Swinburne University and Indigenous Recruitment Coordinator at Crown Melbourne to his current role as manager.
‘The VTA got me noticed and helped launch my career,’ Rory says. ‘Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve been invited to speak at events and now have a network across Australia. The award has proved to be the gift that just keeps on giving.’
It hasn’t all been easy for Rory. Diagnosed with dyslexia while in Year 3, he struggled to read and write and had some pretty tough times at school. He also had a difficult home life, and when his parents separated, nearly dropped out.
‘But then I discovered the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL) and vocational education and training (VET) and that’s what saved me. I discovered there are different ways to succeed other than through an academic pathway or excelling at school,’ Rory says.
VET is fantastic in that it can be shaped to best meet the individual needs of students. The fact that I could take what I learned and then action it in the workplace straight away was really valuable to me.
Rory is a passionate advocate for young people, honed through his experience of when he was invited to speak at a World Partnership Congress in Finland - just a year after he finished high school.
While the Congress’s focus was on young Indigenous people working in non-Indigenous organisations, he was surprised to find that he was the youngest person there by about 15 years.
‘That made me realise that more genuinely youth advocates are needed,’ Rory says, ‘and that’s why I try to be very active in my role as a VTA Ambassador. I’ve also found that my own lived experience – family break-ups, learning difficulties and issues at school - has helped me to be able to relate to young people.’
Rory admits he’s surprised to find himself in a corporate role, wearing a suit and tie. ‘I’m originally a country boy, and thought I’d be doing something with sport,’ he says, ‘but it’s not about what I wear or where I work – it’s what I can do and influence.’
That’s where his current role comes in, where he is firmly focused on helping Indigenous workers get a job and have a fulfilling career.
It has nothing to do with quotas, or people putting their hands up, but about equipping people to be the best candidate for the job. I try to identify people’s talents and harness them. You can see the spark that lights in people’s eyes and then they’re off and running. That’s really rewarding.
For the past 3 years, Rory has been invited to be a mentor for candidates competing for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Student of the Year at the Australian Training Awards. As a previous winner, his insights are of tremendous value for those following in his footsteps.
It’s just another way of giving back and helping my community,’ Rory says. ‘As long as I can keep doing that, in whatever capacity, I’ll feel that I’m contributing something worthwhile.
Reviewed 19 May 2023