Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Like any Greek Australian, Thanasi Tiliakos is immensely proud of his heritage; or more accurately, heritages. Young Thanasi is not only of Greek ancestral background, but is also a proud member of the Gurindji tribe – whose country is some 460km southwest of Katherine in the NT. This week, Thanasi’s story – how he attained a scholarship to Sydney’s prestigious Scots College – hit the headlines nationwide with The Australian newspaper celebrating his achievement. Living in Darwin with his grandmother, Thanasi told The Australian that it all began when his aunt Mary Ann approached the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) after he said he wanted more than the NT’s public school system could provide. “I wanted to go to a boarding school because Darwin was getting a bit boring and I wanted to go to a better school with a better education and I asked my nan, ‘How can I get a good school outside of Darwin?’” he said. The AIEF has a policy of looking out for students like Thanasi, who are not necessarily excelling academically, but who show initiative and a yearning for knowledge. After a couple of interviews, he was accepted for a boarding scholarship at The Scots College in Sydney worth $55,000 a year. “It was pretty scary, just coming into this massive school from a small little school and having all these people walking around in suits, when normally the teachers in Darwin wear jeans and a T-shirt – it was pretty scary and pretty funny,” Thanasi said. AIEF chief executive and founder Andrew Penfold says that Thanasi’s experience is one that the foundation wants to replicate. Having already funded the high school and university ambitions of 2000 Indigenous students, having raised $44 million from government grants and the private sector, this week the foundation launched a new phase of their empowering program, backed by national press advertisements. “We’d like to expand that and stretch ourselves from 2,000 to 7,000 students, and in order to do that we need to raise another $100 million,” says Mr Penfold. “Thanasi is a great example of the sorts of kids we are really interested in assisting because of his enthusiasm and natural drive and interest in what’s going on around him – his aspiration for something better, not just for him but for his family and community as well.” Thanasi was 18 months old when his grandmother was given custody of him. His grandfather Athanasis came to Darwin to work in the construction industry from Kalymnos. And it is his grandparental guidance that has helped provide a firm foundation for his start in life. “My mum wasn’t very capable of raising us . . . Nan just didn’t think she could do a very good job,” he said. “I guess she (Nan) did a good job because I am here,” the young Thanasi told The Australian. “This chance means a lot to me. I hope it helps me achieve my goals to become a very successful lawyer and make lots of money so I can help other people. “For some of these (Aboriginal) kids, I think it’s hard to have a goal because they don’t know what they really want. Or maybe they know what they want, but just don’t know how to say what they want and can’t ask for the help.” Thanasi has begun his first term in Year 9 with what is the formative Scots boys’ experience: two full terms of a camp in Kangaroo Valley, two hours southwest of Sydney. Without a phone or internet connection at the remote camp – despite Neos Kosmos’ best efforts – talking directly with Thanasi this week hasn’t been possible, but we did speak with aunt Mary Ann, who described her high-achieving nephew in glowing terms. “He has a wonderful personality. He’s resilient and lives in the present. He’s just a lovely young man,” she said. “Thanasi was christened Greek Orthodox and has spent time in Kalymnos. He’s very proud of his Greek heritage.” While Thanasi Tiliakos may be incommunicado currently, one thing’s for sure; we haven’t heard the last of this rising star.