When Dr Bronwyn Carlson was contemplating life as a university student, it was the wise words of her grandmother many years before that sprang to mind.
As a young child she experienced homelessness when her father abandoned the family. And then at 15, she dropped out of school to work in a factory because of her unstable home life.
Tertiary education had never been an option. Even when she was in her 30s and with four children of her own, the youngest just two, it seemed an impossibility.
So when someone suggested she enrol in a degree at the University of Wollongong, it was the memory of Nanna Evelyn King that inspired and motivated her.
"My first thought was, 'People like me don't go to university'," she says. "Then I remembered my grandmother. She used to sit with me as a little girl and we'd read the dictionary, picking out the big words. She wanted better for us. She always said that education was the only way you can make a change in the world.
"Now I totally believe her because it's changed my world."
After 10 years of study, much of it part-time, Dr Carlson is now a senior lecturer in the Indigenous Studies Unit at the University of Wollongong.
Her PhD manuscript on Aboriginal identity has won the highly coveted Stanner Award of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
At the ceremony in Canberra, the chairman, Professor Mick Dodson, handed over the unique trophy - an artwork of a glass eel's net, commissioned especially for this year's winner. She also received a cheque for $5000 and a publishing deal with 50 hours of editing time.
Dr Carlson's PhD received the highest ranking achievable when she graduated in March last year.
"It was mind-blowing, an out-of-body experience," she says of the award.
"I couldn't believe it was me. But you don't do these things on your own. I had good supervisors and a lot of support from family and friends.
"So not only am I humbled to be recognised by my peers, this means that all the hard work will be worth it because my manuscript will be disseminated - which as an academic is something you strive for."
This was a woman who, just 10 years before, had thought her university lecturer was talking about a man called "John Ra" when he referred to "genre".
"In the beginning I couldn't make out what the lecturers were talking about. Then one of my tutors showed me a sociology dictionary and that was the key that unlocked what all the words meant. From that day on I understood. It became so empowering, because as an indigenous person you know your local story but to know what's gone on nationally is mind-blowing. It was like a lightbulb going off in my head. For the first time, I understood how the world worked."
Carlson, who was born in Wollongong, had a childhood scarred with poverty and alcoholism.
"I was robbed of a lot of things as a child. We moved around a lot so we lost our connection with a particular place, which as an Aboriginal person is difficult. I went to schools in Katherine, Queensland, Victoria and NSW. My father took us to New Zealand because he thought life would be better for us there. It wasn't.
"He left us. Not long after that my mother, with four children, became homeless. At first we slept at friends' houses and relied heavily on church groups for handouts. Eventually my mother got a job in a kindergarten and we lived in the back room after hours until she could afford enough money to rent a flat."
Dr Carlson returned to Wollongong as a young girl, living with her grandmother and attending to Smiths Hill Girls' High School. When her grandmother died, she left school to pay her own way.
"I didn't really have a stable family life," she says. "Things weren't good at home so I went out to work to look after myself. It wasn't until years later, when I was researching our family history, that I came in contact with the Aboriginal Education Centre at the University of Wollongong."
After receiving first-class honours, she won a scholarship to do her PhD. But she had to decline it because it restricted her working week to just eight hours.
"I had to knock it back because I had a family to take care of," she says. "I needed to work full-time and study part-time. I loved every minute of it, but it was hard work. It was difficult managing family life and study. There were tough times financially and emotionally. Sometimes I felt like I was living in two different world.
"It gives me great joy now when I see lots of Aboriginal kids, 18 years old, coming to university. I think, 'Wow, imagine what my life might have been like if I had started at that age in terms of building up some financial comfort in my life'."
It took Dr Carlson five years to complete her PhD, titled: The Politics of Identity: Who Counts as Aboriginal Today. The manuscript examines ways Aboriginal people understand and live out their Aboriginality.
"There are 67 definitions of what it means to be Aboriginal, which is insane. So I decided to track where they came from."
Aboriginal people need a document, signed and stamped by community representatives, that proves they are of indigenous descent - where they are born, how they live and express their Aboriginality, she says.
"To be counted as Aboriginal, you have to be seen to be doing indigenous things. But there are people with mixed descendants and multiple heritages, people who found out they were Aboriginal at different points in their life, as well as people who have lived away from their community who may not be able to prove they have Aboriginal blood. I think we should be asking where this idea came from where we need to have a document to prove our Aboriginality. Do we really need it?"
Dr Carlson was the first person in her family to go to university. After beginning her undergraduate degree, she also convinced two of her sisters to take up tertiary education. One became a teacher and the other now works in aged care.
Out of her four children, two are keen on a university degree. Like Nanna Evelyn before her, Dr Carlson is also now instilling the qualities of education to her granddaughter, eight-year-old Scarlet.
"I really wanted to study not only to change myself but to create a change for my children," she says.
"I wanted them to grow up talking about going to university as a common thing. I believe that through education, you can make a real shift and change in what happens to your family in the future.
"My granddaughter will definitely be going to uni. I've already started calling her Dr Scarlet."
It has been a good year for Dr Carlson, who was also awarded the UOW's first Discovery Indigenous Grant by the Australian Research Council. The $205,000 in funding over three years is for a project researching Aboriginal identity and community online.
"I'm fascinated in how Aboriginals across the country are engaging in social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and selfies," she says.
"It can be a powerful tool in connecting indigenous people, finding family and having a voice and space to speak on a global stage."
Dr Carlson will also examine how these sites maybe used in the future for educational and health purposes.
She is also interested in studying other indigenous populations and has already has solid connections with Northern Arizona University.
Dr Carlson recalls her first lecture as an undergraduate and her desire to make something of herself.
"There's nothing more powerful than being able to tell our stories from our own perspective and have other people sit and learn from you."