Story by GO supporter and Stories for Simon illustrator Lauren Briggs.

It is hard not to recognise the lightness and bounce in GO Scholar Kiahn Ladkin’s voice.  Having just completed her final HSC exam two days ago, Kiahn is relieved to say the least and a little uncertain about what to do with her new found freedom.  Living on Arakwal Bundjalung land (Byron Bay) makes her choice so much easier as she is only a stone’s throw away from the beach, a place that brings her much joy.

Kiahn attended Byron Bay High School and loved her HSC subjects of English, Math, Modern History, Drama and Dance.  Dance in particular has played a significant part in reconnecting Kiahn to her cultural heritage.  Born on Awabakal Country, in Newcastle near Lake Macquarie, Kiahn moved to Byron Bay with her family when she was 3 years old. It was at this young age that Kiahn began to dance.  ‘I would love to dress in a pink tutu and dance for my grandparents each time they came up from Sydney to visit us’, reminisces Kiahn.  Her love of dancing encouraged her to audition for the Bangarra Youth Program in Sydney when she was 12 years old.  Kiahn succeeded in securing a place on the program and her exciting journey in the performance arts began.  Kiahn was fascinated at how quickly she began to feel connected to her culture. ‘I learnt that it is really important in Indigenous culture to spread knowledge and stories through dance’, reflects Kiahn.

Kiahn Ladkin, the beach where Kiahn loves spending time and Kiahn with good friend and fellow Bangarra dancer, Zanthe Evans
Kiahn Ladkin, the beach where Kiahn loves spending time and Kiahn with good friend and fellow Bangarra dancer, Zanthe Evans

Whilst growing up, Kiahn’s main source of knowledge came from her mum, Mel Ladkin.  ‘My family struggled a lot when we were kids’ says Kiahn.  ‘My mum is so hard working and she has done everything she can do to provide the best for my brother and me.  I really strive to have the same work ethic as her.’  Kiahn’s other female role model was her Year Advisor at school.  Michelle Lowe introduced her to many Indigenous programs during high school, including the opportunities available through the GO Foundation’s scholarship program. ‘Once I heard about the scholarship, I applied immediately and after two school periods and sourcing some references, my papers were in and the rest is history’, shares Kiahn.

Although Kiahn was initially nervous to travel to Sydney and meet the GO mob and scholars, Kiahn could not have been more relieved and at ease once she had arrived.  ‘GO has given me so much pride in my culture and myself.  Often at school I would feel shame when kids would say to me that Aboriginal kids get things so easy.  I would also get told that I don’t look Aboriginal.’  Kiahn reflects that she feels GO has also helped her family to connect to their Aboriginality too.  Mel Ladkin, Kiahn’s mum and proud Awabakal woman, has had a long career as a Bush Regenerator and is also an artist of ochre style paintings, exhibiting in Byron Bay.  Mel would also paint Kiahn with ochre for her dance performances.

Artworks by Mel Ladkin, mother of Kiahn and artist @ochre.earth
Artworks by Mel Ladkin, mother of Kiahn and artist @ochre.earth

In the past four years since Kiahn joined GO, her connections with other Indigenous students has helped her flourish.  Additionally, the exposure she gained during the GO student mentor events has alleviated her fears about going to university in Sydney.  Most importantly, it has been so exciting for Kiahn to be inspired by strong role models such as Adam and Michael who have helped instil a deep sense of pride.

Kiahn looks forward to taking a gap year before starting a Bachelor of Arts in Sydney in 2023.  In the meantime, she wants to continue to share her love and passion for dance with the next generation of aspiring dancers, the 5-year-old dancers she teaches on weekends.