Brilliant opportunities

Picture of Johannes and Friederieke Schiff

Pictured: Johannes and Friederieke Schiff

The spirit of three generations is driving one family’s vision to empower female Indigenous students.

Tim and Kim Gow are continuing a legacy that stretches across three generations of their family to Tim’s maternal grandparents – Johannes (“Johnny”) and Friederieke (“Fritzi”) Schiff.

Tim’s aunt Monika’s desire to help Indigenous women access higher education created the beginning of a remarkable family legacy, that continues to make an impact in the lives of students today.

“The scholarship is something we’re really excited about and truly reflects the deep desire of Monika and my grandparents.” – Tim Gow

Monika’s interest in Indigenous causes was first sparked upon hearing two women from Palm Island in north Queensland share their experiences of discrimination at a women and politics conference in 1975, coinciding with the International Year of Women.

The experience ignited a commitment to creating meaningful change, and after her retirement as a school counsellor, Monika became closely involved with Indigenous advocacy initiatives, including the Aboriginal Educational Council and the Roberta Sykes Black Women’s Action in Education Foundation (now the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation).

Her contribution to the foundation’s scholarships led to her involvement at UTS, after the foundation assisted UTS alumna Larissa Behrendt (now Professor of Law and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research) to study at Harvard University.

Inspired by seeing the impact of scholarships, Monika, together with her sister Lis and her son Tim and Tim’s wife Kim established what has become known today as the Schiff Family Scholarship, providing financial support for Indigenous female students who are undertaking undergraduate study at UTS.

The scholarship provides recipients with up to $60,000 over three years in support of their studies and living expenses while on campus. Many scholarship recipients have also been touched by Monika’s friendship, and the sense of family they have found at Jumbunna, UTS’s ‘home away from home’ which provides a range of support services for Indigenous students.

The family established the scholarship in memory of Monika and Lis’s parents, Johnny and Fritzi Schiff, who made a home for themselves in Australia after fleeing Nazi persecution immediately prior to the Second World War. In 2009, Monika also made a substantial bequest gift in her will to ensure future generations of Indigenous women would continue to be inspired to study at UTS.

Today, Tim and Kim Gow, are proud to be continuing her work and honouring the remarkable memory of Tim’s grandparents.

“The scholarship profoundly reflects the sense of gender equality that my grandparents had,” Tim says. They had an “amazing passion and unshakable belief in education” which was forged nearly eight decades ago as the clouds of conflict loomed over Europe.

An Austrian Jew, Johnny’s family life and business were devastated when the Nazis occupied his country in March 1938. One evening, Johnny, the owner of a chemical factory in Vienna, was approached by one of his workers with an ultimatum: leave the country by the following day, or the Nazis will be informed.

Although Fritzi and daughters Lis and Monika were safe for the time being, Johnny was forced to flee for his life. After escaping to London, he began to seek refugee status around the world. By the end of the year, he was granted entry to Australia and his young family soon followed in a six-week-long journey by sea.

“They arrived in Sydney not penniless, but the majority of their accumulated funds was gone,” Tim says: Monika was four years old and Lis was seven. It was the beginning of a new life, and the girls’ future was very much on their parents’s minds. Tim continues: “Their focus, beyond just getting a roof over the heads and having enough food so they didn’t starve, was: what are the girls going to do to improve their lives?”

“Education was the key they felt to get ahead in this country,” says Kim. “It was important to go to university.” So strong was Fritzi’s belief that during her later years at a nursing home, Kim recounts that Monika would visit and find her mother encouraging female staff to further their studies.

Over the past 15 years, the scholarship has transformed the lives of many women, including Rebecca McGrath, who was the first of her extended family to study at university, graduating with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts in International Studies. “I really wanted an education to advance myself,” she says. “Knowing that someone out there believes in me enough to provide financial assistance has been the greatest gift.”

Seeing so many young women excel has been incredibly rewarding, and the calibre of students applying for the scholarship has inspired Kim and Tim, on behalf of the Schiff family, to award two full scholarships per year.

“The scholarship is something we’re really excited about and truly reflects the deep desire of Monika and my grandparents,” says Tim.

“There’s a superb support network for UTS people. It must be tremendously exciting to be a young student today, and I think that students here have got a brilliant opportunity.”