Mathilda Tonkin knows only too well the psychological trauma arising from domestic violence.
While there have been times she doubted her strength to carry on, today Mathilda is forging ahead with dreams of a life and career informed by her experience, but never defined by it.
Now in the final year of a Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University, 22-year-old Mathilda grew up in Bangalow, NSW, where life was tough from the start.
“My father left before I was two, so Mum worked hard doing cleaning and hospitality jobs,” says Mathilda. “My father was in and out of our lives, disappearing for years and then appearing again.”
The combination of financial struggle and personal anxiety was a constant theme for Mathilda growing up. It also drove her fascination for the workings of the justice system.
While studying at Lismore in an associate degree in law, her father’s return again brought disruption and confusion.
“By year two, some parts of my life really started to fall apart. I even had to take out an AVO (apprehended violence order) against my father,” says Mathilda. “I was trying to manage my university studies, my personal life and 30 hours a week at work. It all became too much. I dropped out of most of my units, obtaining a number of absent fails.”
Mathilda then transferred from Lismore to Griffith, to commence Criminology.
Mathilda consulted a psychologist to deal with the emotional toll of a rapidly spiralling situation. Other help was also soon at hand.
The recipient of a Griffith Futures Scholarship awarded with the support of the Staff Giving Program, Mathilda is now thriving in the top 5 per cent of her degree and taking advantage of the opportunities coming her way.
These include a work placement with Police Prosecutions, and membership of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology and the Golden Key International Honours Society.
Examples like Mathilda's are why Associate Professor Liz Jones participates in Staff Giving. She and Mathilda have also been paired in the Buddy Program linked to payroll giving.
“When I was growing up in New Zealand, we were very poor and it was a struggle,” says Liz.
“My parents pursued university education later in life and I’ll always remember what my father said. He believed education was the key to the future because it meant being able to find a better job, to live a better life, and to better provide for your family.”
With her father gaining a degree in English Literature, the family moved to Armidale where Liz’s father taught at the University of New England and her mother completed a degree in economic history. Liz went on to study psychology, joining Griffith University in 1989.
She urges fellow staff members to join Staff Giving: “The students’ stories are so moving, so inspiring, and they are so deserving. Mathilda could have given up, but she became even more determined. I respect that and if I can help, then I will.”
Mathilda eventually hopes to join the Queensland Police Service as a civilian researcher in the Domestic and Family Violence Unit. She is also considering honours and a PhD at Griffith.
“I would like to undertake research into domestic violence, to comprehend why people hurt the ones they love,” says Mathilda. “I’d like to get to the core of the issue, to develop alternative methods to approaching this crime.”
It’s a cause that Mathilda is better equipped to pursue thanks to the generosity of staff givers like Associate Professor Liz Jones.
“This has provided me with the resources and materials I require, and greatly reduced my financial stresses,” says Mathilda. “It has made such a huge difference to my studies and allowed me to get my best results.”