Described as a watershed moment in Aboriginal history, Australia's first Center for Indigenous Excellence has opened in Sydney. It provides accommodation for 100 people to attend sport, health and education programs, as well as intensive literacy and numeracy classes. Aboriginal leaders say the project will help some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia prosper.
A maritime survival course is teaching young students the skills the will need to get work as deckhands.
The new Center for Indigenous Excellence aims to provide a cultural sanctuary for Aboriginal Australians, where they can enjoy first-class education and athletic facilities.
Chief Executive Jason Glanville says re-igniting pride in their heritage is the key to success.
"What is missing, generally, from their experience in classrooms in the mainstream education system is access to their culture," he said. "Too often, indigenous young people are in the minority in those classroom situations. What they find, when they come here, is that they are the majority,
The sea safety course is run by the Tribal Warrior Association, an indigenous maritime training company that is headed by Shane Phillips.
He is using facilities at the Center of Excellence to help train new recruits and believes they are showing positive signs of improvement.
"It is warming to see that these kids [are] here in the face of adversity - there are dramas in their lives - they just want to make something happen. They have aspirations and they have drive," said Phillips.
Australia's original inhabitants suffer high levels of unemployment, imprisonment and poor health, as well as spiraling rates of alcohol and drug addiction. Aborigines make up about two percent of the population but are, by far, the nation's most disadvantaged group.
Education achievement is generally poor and crime is endemic to many Aboriginal communities. But 16-year-old student Cameron Lyons is determined to seize the opportunities the new center offers.
"Tribal Warrior is good because they help young indigenous people to get a job and earn a bit of cash, because I know people around this way don't have a lot of cash. They've got to thieve to get cash, so it's good they are giving us opportunities to earn some money for ourselves, instead of doing crime," said Lyons.
The $46 million project boasts two gyms and a heated swimming pool, along with a computer laboratory, child care center, dance studio and both indoor and outdoor sports fields.
Up to 5,000 people from tropical Darwin to chilly Hobart are expected to take advantage of its services and courses, each year.
Organizers say their ultimate ambition is to establish Australia's first indigenous university, modeled on similar ventures in North America.