My first visit to Australian shores was as a 21-year-old on a three-month leadership challenge, with 50 young people from all over the globe – Operation Raleigh – participating in community projects in the beautiful Torres Strait. This experience left a deep impression and reinforced the belief that everyone can help change the world one small act at a time.
In early 2005, my husband Robert and I relocated our family from Scotland, and I took up the task of leading the Queensland Government’s approach to the QLD Skills Plan. At the time, each senior government leader was also charged with the task of taking responsibility for a remote community. During this time, I got to know Palm Island, and it was a culture shock for this Scot to say the least!
Our discussions about Palm Island and also about remote Aboriginal education felt like the answers were out of reach. Instead, it was a merry-go-round of never-ending questions about First Nations’ people and how the education system failed and was failing Aboriginal communities and culture. Questions like: How can we ensure the best teachers teach in remote communities? What will it take to close the gap? How can we meaningfully engage First Nations’ perspectives in curriculum and school communities? How will we entice more Aboriginal Australians to go to and then stay in school?
These questions still feel far too familiar and ongoing.
So, as part of NAIDOC Week, I invite you to share in these six things with me:
1. We must unite, celebrate and reflect if we are to heal and build a bright and strong future. So, if you’re in Sydney, make it mandatory for yourself, for your colleagues, and for your students to attend our first ever NAIDOC week event at Australia Hall on Wednesday. Take an hour out of your day and make it happen. I also know there are events planned around each state. If Torrens University Australia is to be a genuinely International University, we must understand and celebrate our own First Nations perspectives first and foremost.
2. Read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. Dark Emu is one of the most compelling books I have read on Australian history. It will make you reconsider everything you know about Aboriginal Australians and Agriculture. It’s changed my perspective and enhanced my understanding.
3. Get to know the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It’s time for First Nations’ Australians to have a place and voice preserved in the Constitution. I urge you to take time to talk about it with your colleagues, your students, and your community. I especially encourage you to understand more about the spirit of Makarrata to reconcile and establish a treaty to heal wrongdoings.
4. Celebrate and share First Nations’ culture with family and friends, but more importantly, introduce First Nations’ culture to our students. Take some time in class to share Black Comedy on the ABC. Or the hilarious film Bran Nue Dae on Netflix. Or the music of Dan Sultan, Busby Mario or Jessica Mauboy. I particularly love this Spotify playlist from the ABC’s Rhianna Patrick.
5. Connect with projects that we are already leading. Share the stories of the amazing fashion projects that our own students created from fabrics interpreting Robert Henderson’s amazing Indigenous Art at Brisbane Fashion Festival. Check out the Aboriginal Art installation recently installed at our Flinders Street campus in Melbourne. Learn more about the curriculum development from our health academics ensuring we embrace Indigenous health.
6. Listen, learn from and amplify the generous words of Rochelle Kudawoo. Consider Rochelle’s story a call to action. Consider it part of your work. Our very own Rochelle Kudawoo provided such a personal and frank account of what it means to be an Aboriginal woman in Australia today, working in higher education and working in a complex global organisation like ours. Her story should be mandatory viewing for all new staff and students. It should also not be an exception in the future, but the norm, as we build more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in our staff, students and alumni.
I would particularly encourage you to share Rochelle’s story with your students and with your colleagues.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m proud that Torrens University Australia and Think Education are already leading significant projects with and by First Nations’ people. However, it’s only a beginning, and we should do more to amplify and take this work further whether it be the students studying with us at the Simon Black Academy, Whether it be Rochelle Kudawoo’s amazing work leading the online Yarning Space for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders students. Or, whether it be the fact that we have awarded ALL of our scholarships for First Nations’ students in Trimester Two. We are doing great work that we must continue.
However, let’s also remember we must do this work in partnership and with patience. As artist Lila Watson said:
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
If we are Here for Good, then most certainly our liberation is bound together.
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