When Corey Tutt was at high school in Dapto, south of Sydney, his favourite subjects were science, agriculture and history – but his true love was animals. Corey says when things weren’t going great at home, his fascination for animals provided an escape – and he dreamed of one day becoming a zoo keeper.
Unfortunately a teacher at school told Corey he shouldn’t pursue that career as it would require a university degree. Soon after, just before he turned 17 (and although his mum wasn’t keen on the idea), Corey left school and embarked on a road trip to Western Australia where he ended up working at a wildlife sanctuary called Roo Gully for a few months.
During that period Corey, a Kamilaroi man, received mentoring through AIME – a program that supports Indigenous students through high school and university – and it was this mentorship that helped him realise there were alternative pathways to achieve his dream. Corey signed up for a Certificate III in Captive Animals at TAFE back on the east coast and soon landed his first “real gig” at Shoalhaven Zoo, not far from where he’d gone to school.
“AIME gave me something I hadn’t had, which was belief and confidence to back myself,” Corey says.
Animals, healing, growth and learning
Corey says he had a couple of great years working at Shoalhaven Zoo and really enjoyed talking to guests about Australia’s native animals. However when Corey tragically lost a friend to suicide everything “turned on its head” and he felt lost. “I was in need of a change and a new perspective; the hunger I had felt to tell the story of the animals was gone,” Corey says.
When Corey’s stepdad spotted an ‘alpaca handling’ job ad in the local paper around that time, Corey jumped at the opportunity – leading to a period working as a roving shearer, travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Grateful for this important period of healing and growth – including mentorship under renowned alpaca shearer James Dixon – Corey eventually took up a job opportunity at the RSPCA, followed by another gig with the Animal Welfare League NSW.
Corey’s passion for working with animals was now reignited, and he decided to further his education at TAFE, this time qualifying as an animal technician.
Using his new qualification, Corey’s next job was at Australian BioResources in the NSW southern highlands, a state-of-the-art science facility for breeding and holding research mice, owned by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. This new career direction also led to an increasing interest in science for Corey, who started to teach himself biology and genetics in his spare time.
In 2016 Corey landed a similar role as an animal technician at the University of Sydney, where he still works today managing breeding colonies of rodents and providing technical services to researchers, such as tissue collections.
Mentorship and outreach
In Sydney, Corey decided to track down AIME – the mentorship program that had played such an important role for him as a teenager. Before long, he was volunteering for AIME in his spare time, including giving science talks to local Indigenous kids. A new passion had brewed in Corey – to support and mentor other young Indigenous people on their study and career paths, as he had once been.
“I wanted to tell my story to kids so they could get the same belief that I had had instilled in me at that age,” he says.
Since then, Corey’s personal mission to support young Indigenous people and their communities has grown and evolved – from once encountering a school with only 15 books (to which he sent every science book he owned) to now supporting 74 (and counting) remote schools with everything from science books to sending telescopes and arranging astronomy nights, and even sending vegetable seeds to one community with limited access to fresh produce.
Working under the name Deadly Science, which Corey officially founded less than a year ago, Corey has already sent schools more than 1800 books, four telescopes and other educational materials. He’s attracted the attention of some big names, too – celebrity UK physicist Dr Brian Cox and Aussie science communicator Dr Karl have both donated many signed copies of their books.
“I want to inspire and I want to learn and grow with my culture into the future,” says Corey of his mission for Deadly Science. “I hope to see more Indigenous people in STEMM and leading the way. I also want to tell our story so the rest of Australia can see how gifted and wonderful we are.”
And in case you thought he wasn’t already busy enough, Corey is also launching a Deadly Science podcast later this year. “It will have some high-profile guests and some really inspiring Indigenous people,” he says.
“I want to thank everyone who has supported us so far,” adds Corey. “Deadly Science is not about Corey Tutt, it’s a group of people doing great things in community. I am just carrying the message stick for mob in science.”
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.