INDIGENOUS COLLABORATION 2011
DETERMINED TO SUCCEED
Pride in her people
In the field
The skyâ€™s the limit
A shared history
CONTENTS 03 A message 04 Healthy ambition 06 A just cause 07 Pride in her people 08 Starting over 10 Spreading the word 11 Bright spark 12 The getting of wisdom 14 The skyâ€™s the limit 15 Cultural insight 16 A professional approach 18 A shared history 19 Telling the hard truths 20 Experience in the field 22 A better start in life 23 Birth of a new career 24 Higher learning
A message from the Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Global Relations) and Director, The Wollotuka Institute
An unwavering determination to succeed characterises the people and their stories in this latest edition of Indigenous Collaboration. For inspiration and motivation, the people in the following pages have drawn strength from their families, their communities and their Indigenous heritage. While each journey to success has been unique, a common thread for all has been the role of education in building a confident future. Entering higher education was a turning point for Joni Letson and helped her along a path to providing a stable environment for her two daughters. Pictured on the front cover with one of her girls, Joni’s story is a great example of beating the odds with resilience and determination and creating new opportunities. The importance of family was also the driving force behind Dr Donna Odegaard’s quest to find out more about her heritage. Read Donna’s story about reconnecting as an adult with her Indigenous beginnings, and how university study has helped her give back to her community. Rugby league legend, Ashley Gordon, teams up with his father Ron in this edition to talk about the importance of valuing education and career. Both men contribute greatly to their communities through their work. Their passion to make a difference and commitment to their people is inspiring.
Professor Caroline McMillen Vice-Chancellor and President
The University of Newcastle leads the sector in Indigenous participation in higher education. We are proud of the support we have provided in helping those featured in Indigenous Collaboration 2011 – plus many others – to reach their goals. Our work is not carried out in isolation, and partnerships with industry, government and the community are central to the success of our Indigenous education strategy. The university’s Industry-Based Indigenous Scholarships is a new scheme that provides students with industry experience while supporting them through their studies. Information about the scheme, plus the experience of two students, features in this edition.
The ‘Welcome to Wollotuka Institute’ staff induction program and the Cultural Competency workshop are also new for the university, and have been established to help the university community gain a deeper appreciation of our commitment to Indigenous education. The University of Newcastle has shared the determination to succeed with every person in every story of Indigenous Collaboration 2011. Our commitment to opportunity in education for Indigenous Australians is having a real impact, and we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to work with such talented and dedicated staff, students and community members towards this shared vision.
Also in this edition is news about a number of other University of Newcastle initiatives. The Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice is the only degree of its kind in Australia, preparing students for contemporary professional practice as well as offering insight into Aboriginal culture. Professor Kevin McConkey Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Global Relations)
Professor John Lester Director, The Wollotuka Institute
HEALTHY AMBITION Hard work and a positive outlook have been the prescription for this dedicated rural doctor’s success.
In a few short years Dr Sarah McEwan’s medical career has taken her from one side of the country to the other – and this Newcastle graduate could not be happier. McEwan’s ambition as a student was to work in rural health and the young GP is relishing the challenge and diversity of life as a bush doctor. Since graduating in 2004 McEwan has worked as a GP registrar in Tweed Heads, on the Far North Coast of NSW, and is now the District Medical Officer at the Hedland Health Campus in Port Hedland, in northern Western Australia. McEwan is a specialist general practitioner with extended skills and training in emergency care and obstetrics, which allows her to fill these wide-ranging roles. McEwan’s enthusiasm and professional approach have won much respect and praise in the communities in which she has been based but her passion and flair for her work has also been recognised further afield. In 2010 she won the prestigious Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine Rural Registrar of the Year Award and in 2011 won the University of Newcastle’s Indigenous Alumni Award. It is all a long way from her tentative first weeks on campus in 2000 as a freshfaced high school graduate from the country whose sole goal was to get to the end of her first year of medical studies. “It was such a big move for me to come to Newcastle,” says the Wiradjuri woman, who grew up in Mudgee in a family of eight siblings. “I was the first in my family to finish the HSC, let alone go on to anything else, so it was a major thing for my parents as well. We discussed it and they just said, ‘Try your best and see how you go.’
I want to continue working as a mainstream doctor but also to be able to bridge the gap between Indigenous organisations and the hospitals and health services
“I was lucky in that I had lots of friends from Mudgee who also went to uni at Newcastle, and because it is a university of choice for rural and Indigenous students, there was a lot of support. “The second year was more challenging. I actually failed a few exams early on, but that served as a wake-up call. After that I focused on what I had to do to get through each year and it was surprising how quickly five years flew by.” McEwan was inspired to become a doctor from an early age by the husband and wife team of GPs who delivered her and tended to her medical care throughout her childhood and teenage years. Her father’s involvement as a volunteer with the St John’s Ambulance was also influential. McEwan spent the final two years of her degree studying at the University Department of Rural Health in Tamworth and completed her GP training in the NSW Northern Rivers district. She pursued additional qualifications that allow her to provide obstetric and antenatal services and work in hospital emergency departments, skills that are critical in rural and remote areas where access to medical specialists is limited or non-existent. She adopted a strong advocacy role during her time in northern NSW, where she was the Indigenous Support Officer for the North Coast GP Training Consortium and wrote a monthly column called Koori Korner for the organisation. She also began writing regularly for professional journals, an interest that continues.
Since moving to Port Hedland in 2010, McEwan has broadened her medical background. She is still engaged in a lot of obstetrical and emergency medicine, but with a high population of resident and fly-in, fly-out miners in the Western Australian town, she is gaining more experience in dealing with men’s health issues as well. “Men are often a bit negligent in dealing with health problems so I have had to do a lot of chronic disease management,” she says. “And because there is a high proportion of younger males, we have problems that are typical of that age group such as drinking, violence and trauma. It is very different to what I have done in the past but quite challenging.” The bustling mining town of 20,000 is not quite the remote community McEwan envisaged herself working in, but she says she feels very much at home there. Her husband, father and a brother and his family have joined her in Port Hedland and she has a close relationship with the local Indigenous community. “The welcome I have received from the Indigenous people here is just beautiful,” she says. “There is a strong Aboriginal community here, the culture and language are still quite intact, and that was one of the drawcards for me in coming to a place like this. It is very a different environment to the one I grew up in and it has been hugely positive experience for me to be part of this community.”
McEwan sees an important part of her role as advocating on behalf of her Indigenous patients and the communities in which she works. “I am absolutely 100 per cent passionate about rural health and the equitable delivery of care,” she says. “I want to continue working as a mainstream doctor but also to be able to bridge the gap between Indigenous organisations and the hospitals and health services. I feel I can make a good impact that way, rather than working solely in Aboriginal health.” She is equally passionate about advancing the training of the next generation of Indigenous doctors and is happy to be portrayed as a role model. A recipient of a special entry to the University’s medical program, McEwan has high praise for the University’s holistic approach to assessing candidates for the medical degree and for tertiary entry schemes that remove barriers to Indigenous participation. “A lot of Indigenous students, for whatever reason, don’t do as well at school as they could but that doesn’t mean they lack the intelligence or suitability to study a degree like medicine,” she says. “Self-confidence and empowerment take a long time to develop but if you provide people with the opportunity then it is really up to them to make a go of it. They still have to reach the same benchmarks as everyone else once they are in. “Once you have that self-belief and understand that things are possible, the sky is the limit.”
A JUST CAUSE Aspiring lawyer and historian Kathleen Jackson aims to use her skills to help Indigenous people. Kathleen Jackson always envisaged herself working in midwifery or childcare until a meeting with a Central Coast Aboriginal Elder on a Yapug orientation excursion convinced her that her future might lie in law. “I was speaking to him and noticed that the folder he was carrying was covered in these handwritten notes that were all legal jargon,” Jackson recalls. “He explained that when he was in meetings with government and corporate representatives they would talk in ‘legalese’ to bamboozle him so he had developed the habit of noting all of the terms so he could look them up later. “It made me realise there was a strong need for Indigenous people with legal knowledge so I started to think about studying law and a career in advocacy.” When Jackson undertook a Legal Studies course as part of her Yapug program and loved it, her conversion was complete. She enrolled in an Arts/Law degree the following year. Along the way she has also discovered a passion for history, particularly African American, and having completed the coursework component of her Arts degree, she is embarking on an Honours year in 2012 studying race and the death penalty in modern America.
With two years of her Law degree still to complete, Jackson hopes to one day be able to use her combined skills for the benefit of her community. “University has opened so many opportunities to me – it seems at every turn there is a new direction, each thing leads to another,” says Jackson, whose immediate ambition is to win a Charlie Perkins Scholarship to study at Oxford University in England. “I don’t want to close myself off to opportunities. I am really interested in history and see a power in the way it can be used to explain today’s society, but I also want to use my legal studies to help Indigenous people.” Jackson was inspired by a trip she made in 2011 to a meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York. As a youth delegate she had the opportunity to observe and report on discussions and workshops and participate in a global youth caucus. “There were so many different cultures and so many different problems – it was humbling to hear of the battles people face over basic rights, such as access to their own land and to food and water,” she says. “The determination in the room was incredible.”
Jackson is a Wiradjuri woman. She grew up in Gulgong NSW with an activist mother who ensured that not only her children but also their schoolmates had a strong education in the culture of the region’s original people. She organised visits to the school by Indigenous artists, performers and speakers and provided Indigenous children with the opportunity to meet local Elders. Moving to Newcastle as a teenager, Jackson found her teenage years culturally bereft by comparison, and subsequently struggled at school, eventually leaving in year 11. Going to university has not only reignited her passion for knowledge and education but has been a spiritual reawakening as well. “Uni has allowed me to reconnect with my culture and to realise what I am capable of,” she says.
PRIDE IN HER PEOPLE Reconnecting with her Indigenous heritage lit a fire within Dr Donna Odegaard.
Receiving her PhD at a graduation ceremony in October marked a high point in what has been a remarkable journey for Dr Donna Odegaard, who was forcibly removed from her family at the age of two and cut off from her culture for many years. Her only lament was that her father Leo, who fostered her cultural rebirth and set her on the path of activism, was not around to see her reach the milestone, having passed away in 2001 just before she graduated with her Master in Philosophy (Law). “I found my father as an adult, at a time when I was questioning my identity and longing to know where I came from,” Odegaard explains. “When I asked him who I was, he said to me, ‘My girl, if you go down this road of finding out about your ancestors and your culture, you must accept who you are; you cannot turn your back on it.’ “When he told me about his people and where we came from, I felt this enormous sense of relief. It was as if all these unexplained feelings I had experienced all of my life suddenly made sense.” Odegaard’s father was an Elder of the Larrakia people, whose traditional country includes areas in and around Darwin. She was born in a tent in Woomera, where her father was working on a road project, but as a toddler was taken from her parents, along with her three sisters, and put into a girls’ home in Adelaide.
It was five years before she was reunited with her mother, who had by then remarried. As a child she had little contact with her father, whom she knew only as the strange black man who occasionally called to see them at the girls’ home and would spend his entire visit crying. As her mother was not Indigenous, and she was conditioned from her time in the home not to ask questions, she grew up adrift from her culture, unsure of what it was that made her different. Finding her father as an adult and making the brave decision to enrol in university as a 39-year-old single mother proved to be turning points in Odegaard’s life. She studied Aboriginal affairs, immersed herself in her people’s culture and appeared on behalf of her father to give evidence in the Larrakia’s long-running land claim on Kenbi, their traditional country. The claim was lodged in 1977 and in 2000 the Larrakia were awarded a substantial part of the claim, but the land has still not been signed over by the federal government. Odegaard’s ongoing involvement in the Kenbi claim fuelled an interest in the treatment of Aboriginal land claims in the Australian justice system. She devoted her Masters thesis, also undertaken at Newcastle, to a study of the conceptual differences between Australian and Aboriginal law and the bias and barriers within the legal system that prevent fair determination of native title and land rights claims.
Odegaard’s doctoral thesis takes the argument a step further, pondering how successful negotiations can be undertaken within the legal framework that exists. She argues for renewed consideration of a treaty or treaties and explores the legal response to the Larrakia treaty petitions, which were lodged in 1972. “At the heart of what all Aboriginal people want is the ability to look after their communities and take control of their cultural, social and economic future. That was all enshrined in the original Larrakia treaty petitions,” Odegaard says. Odegaard, who lives on Kenbi, is the chief executive officer of a Darwin-based Aboriginal media organisation and remains highly active in advocacy for the Larrakia and all Indigenous people. “University education has been critical in strengthening my commitment to my people and giving me added credibility in the work I do,” she says. “Undertaking and completing the PhD has cemented my belief in the importance of Indigenous Australians attaining undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications to assist in our struggles and accomplishments and confidently attain our aspirations.”
STARTING OVER University has imbued mature-age student Joni Letson with a positive outlook and a zest for life.
As a troubled teenager, Joni Letson spent many years trying to escape things in her life. For the first time, the matureage psychology student has stopped “running away” and is brimming with newfound confidence – a remarkable turnaround that she attributes to her university studies.
“I thought, ‘Here I am, I am a mother of two, I am 28 years old, and I have nothing.’ So I applied for public housing, then I read about the University’s Open Foundation program at Newcastle and I thought, ‘I am going to give it a go. I’ll fly by the seat of my pants and if I can do that, maybe I can do a university degree.’”
“Going to uni is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Letson says. “It has been life-changing and continues to be so. I am so grateful for the opportunity and my aim is to use what I have learned to give something back to the community.”
Despite her lack of formal education, Letson was a keen learner and an avid reader. When you live on the street, libraries are a good place to find shelter from the cold and rain, and Letson spent many a day in her younger years sitting out inclement weather with her nose in a book.
Letson was this year named the inaugural winner of the Dr Beryl Collier Indigenous Scholarship, a financial gift of more than $11,000 to assist with education costs and fees. It is awarded from a $300,000 bequest to the University from the estate of the late Dr Collier, an esteemed gynaecologist and obstetrician who also worked with the Central Coast Reconciliation Group. Letson’s path to university was an unorthodox one. She left school on the Central Coast in year 7 to escape an unhappy home life and spent the next seven years living rough on the streets of Sydney. After falling pregnant with the first of her two daughters, she attempted to bring some order to her life, moving in with her grandparents and finding odd jobs in telesales and retail. When her second daughter was born seven years later, and subsequently diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Letson became more determined to provide her family with a stable existence. “The only thing I knew was that I did not want my children having an upbringing like mine,” she says.
An earlier attempt to complete her HSC studies at TAFE had failed but in Open Foundation she found the support and encouragement she needed to see the course through. “I can never praise the Open Foundation program enough, it is absolutely fantastic,” she says. “The lecturers and tutors have an amazing ability to bring out what is latent in you. They are such a dedicated group of people who really care and really want you to succeed, and that is the thing that keeps you going.” Letson excelled in her Open Foundation studies and was delighted to be offered a place in the Bachelor of Psychology program, which she began in 2009. “Psychology has been a lifelong interest for me,” she says. “I bring a lot of life experience to the class discussions but I have learned as much from the other people in my course as they have learned from me. “I am no longer consumed by my past. I can look at the things that have happened in my life and think, well, I learned something from each and
every one of them. That change in my thinking comes from my peers and those discussions we have.” The Beryl Collier scholarship has made a world of difference to Letson, who converted to full-time study in 2011. Her daughter spent 12 weeks in hospital and Letson would probably have deferred if not for the financial assistance she received. “It helps me make ends meet, which reduces my stress and allows me to concentrate on my study and my family. I am so grateful and I am determined to do the scholarship justice.” Attending university has also provided Letson with an opportunity to research her Torres Strait Islander heritage, which she is doing with the help of John Doolah, an Indigenous studies lecturer with The Wollotuka Institute. “I am trying to learn more about who my people are and where I come from, which is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” she says. “So far we have my grandfather’s name and my uncle’s name and we are going through all the archives trying to dig up what we can. “Coming to university I wasn’t really aware of the strong family and cultural ties that our people have so what they have taught me is wonderful. For the first time I am actually starting to feel part of a family. I have always had a very strong connection with the ocean and the beach and I love dancing – and I now see that all those things come from my people. “I have never felt a sense of belonging before so to finally feel that is an amazing thing. It is like I was lost but now am found.”
The lecturers and tutors have an amazing ability to bring out what is latent in you
SPREADING THE WORD Liz Cameron is on a mission to help young people realise their learning potential.
Liz Cameron has a simple but important message for the young people she speaks to in her role as a National Indigenous Education Ambassador: open your eyes to all of the possibilities. “I try to give them a ‘you can do it’ attitude and get them to focus on their personal strengths,” she says. “I see my role as demonstrating to students that they have options by telling my stories and those of other successful Aboriginal people. It is about making them think about the opportunities that are available to them and how they can use their strengths to find an area of study or a career that they are interested in.” Cameron, a lecturer and coordinator of the University of Newcastle’s YAPUG Indigenous enabling program, was one of 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people appointed in 2011 by the Australian Government to promote the value of education. It is a voluntary role that involves her visiting schools and community events, such as NAIDOC Week activities and Indigenous job markets, to speak to people about how education can improve their lives.
“I explain to them that they have so many options. I talk about going to uni, going to TAFE, about jobs and self-employment,” Cameron says. “And I challenge them. I say to them: Do you want to be the worker or the boss? Do you want to make decisions on behalf of your family and community and Indigenous people nationally? If you do, you won’t be able to make a difference unless you have the qualifications and expertise to make positive changes.” The Dharug woman is relishing her role as an ambassador and the opportunity it provides to reach out to young Indigenous people and change their thinking. She uses storytelling to illustrate how Aboriginal people she knows have successfully found their career niche, including her own journey from nurse to Indigenous educator and mentor. “My HSC marks at school weren’t as good as they should have been because, as I often tell the kids, I was a social type and saw my role at high school as the ‘party planner’. But I loved art. I studied threeunit art and did well, and that got me over the line.
“I got enough marks to go into nursing and from there I moved into adult education, teaching other nurses, then into TAFE as a teacher and counsellor. I went on to teach at university and work in Indigenous student support.” Cameron’s stories also strike a chord with older audiences, especially when she tells them about navigating the challenges of being a single mother juggling full-time work, university studies and the demands of three children. Women in similar situations have approached her after her talks and told her she has inspired them to consider going to TAFE or studying at university. Cameron employs similar storytelling techniques in her role as a lecturer in Aboriginal history, arts and health. “I use conventional teaching techniques but students love the stories – that is what they relate to the most, whether they are Indigenous or not,” she says. Although her ambassadorial role is targeted at Indigenous students, Cameron says her message is universal. “My aim is to motivate and inspire people, to make them aware of their potential.”
Zach Curran sees renewable energy as the future and the young Honours graduate in electrical engineering is keen to be at the vanguard of the power revolution. “I think that is where the jobs will be,” he says. “It might take a little while before the community makes that shift away from coal but in the long run I think renewable sources will be more sought-after. “I had the choice of a few different study areas but I opted for this because I could see there was going to be a growing need for renewable energy and that is the sort of development work I would like to get involved with.” Since completing his Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) with first-class Honours in the middle of 2011, Curran has been working at the University as a research assistant with CRC Mining, a government-funded cooperative centre undertaking research and development for the mining industry.
In his final-year of study Curran built a microgrid demonstration, a localised power generator that can connect to the main grid or run independently.
Electrical engineering graduate Zach Curran is plugging into new ideas about power generation.
The staff are wonderful. I am one of those people who asks a lot of questions but they always had time to answer them
The project has particular application to renewable energies such as wind and solar, Curran explains, as it can be difficult to connect these sources to the general load. Curran’s work has the potential to
make these sources more viable by increasing their versatility and compatibility with the main grid. “In everyday terms it is about interfacing renewable energy sources to synchronise with the main grid. It is very difficult to connect these sources to the general load because you get load distortion and they cause havoc in the power system if you just connect them straight up. “So the idea is to make them more versatile and to develop a system that can stand alone, that can run when the main grid is offline.” Curran grew upon the mid-North Coast and is a descendant of the Dunghutti people. He came to University after finishing Year 12 at Melville High School, near Kempsey. With several electricians in his family, he was attracted to a career in electrical engineering and says one of the drawcards of attending the University of Newcastle was its reputation as a leader in the field. Curran says he enjoyed the tutelage of some excellent academics while studying in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, all of whom welcomed his inquisitive nature. “The staff are wonderful,” he says. “I am one of those people who asks a lot of questions but they always had time to answer them.”
THE GETTING OF WISDOM Ron Gordon received little education but he made sure his children had every opportunity to learn and prosper.
Having an education degree opened the door and gave me credibility – it provided the base for me to grow my skills
Growing up in Brewarrina where impromptu all-ages footy matches were a major form of recreation, Ashley Gordon was considered, by his own description, to be “just an OK footballer”. It was not until he moved to Newcastle with his family at the age of 11 that the skinny kid from the bush with the lightning pace discovered that he had something special. Gordon went on to play rugby league for the Australian Schoolboys team at the age of 15, where he was voted player of the series. While still in year 12 at Cardiff High, he became the first player signed by the Newcastle Knights football club for its inaugural season in 1988. But it wasn’t just his sporting career that blossomed with the move to Newcastle. Gordon went on to gain a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Newcastle, worked as a physical education teacher and is these days a prominent consultant on Indigenous issues, currently working in problem gambling. Gordon attributes his success to his father ‘Uncle Ron’ Gordon, a respected Elder and former CEO of the Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council. Ron has always been passionate about education and career, and remains so. He is a member of the University’s Board of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education and Training and has strong connections with The Wollotuka Institute. He is also on the board of the Newcastle-based Yarnteen Aboriginal business and training organisation. Education and career are values that were instilled in Ashley from a young age. He began his degree in the same year that he started playing professional rugby league and ultimately bowed out of football early, in his mid 20s, due to a growing conflict between his sporting and work commitments.
Around that time, Ashley was approached by the community organisation Life Activities to run a gambling counselling service, which became the catalyst to launch his new career in community education and advocacy. Identifying Indigenous problem gambling as an area that was vastly under-resourced, he spent five years researching with the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University. He has worked in education and program development with more than 90 communities over the past five years. Now, he is the manager of the NSW Aboriginal Safe Gambling Program and a consultant to many government and community organisations. “Problem gambling in Indigenous communities is often linked with other problems, like alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, crime and mental health issues, but it tends to be hidden below the surface so people don’t seek help for it. I work with community people and service providers to raise their awareness of the extent of the problem, and help them devise strategies to deal with it.” Gordon says it is gratifying to be able to work with Indigenous communities and he is thankful for the opportunity he has been given. “Having an education degree opened the door and gave me credibility – it provided the base for me to grow my skills. “But having a degree doesn’t open just one door, it can be the start of many things. Education is knowledge and no matter what qualification you have, it provides you with an asset that you can use in any way you choose.”
THE SKY’S THE LIMIT Like the businessman he admires, Kurt Dimmock intends to reach for the stars. Business student Kurt Dimmock likes the way Richard Branson operates. Asked to nominate a corporate role model, he quickly names the flamboyant British entrepreneur. “I admire his creativity and his ability to see an opportunity where a lot of other people might laugh it off,” the 20-year-old says. “He is such a visionary. Just look at Virgin Galactic – who else but Branson would seriously pursue the idea of space tourism? And yet it looks like getting off the ground within the next two years.” Dimmock graduated with his Bachelor of Business degree in 2011 and took time out for a well-deserved six-week European trip with his partner Amanda early in 2012. But the 20-year-old is keen to put the knowledge he has garnered over the past three years into professional practice. “I am excited about the idea of getting out there and putting my skills to use,” says Dimmock, who went straight to university after graduating from The Entrance High School in 2008. “I did a double major in Management and Information Systems and what I liked
about the program was that it was so broad-based. I have received training in all aspects of business: management, information technology, law, accounting, economics and other fields. It is a really good foundation for going into the corporate world.” Dimmock studied primarily at the University’s Central Coast campus, which is just five minutes from his Glenning Valley home, and has high praise for the staff of the Gibalee Aboriginal Learning Centre. “I have been made to feel very much part of the Aboriginal community here on the campus through Gibalee. They offer lots of information about scholarships and other opportunities and really get behind the Indigenous students,” he says. “There is a dedicated computer room for study, free printing, free coffee, tea and biscuits – a lot of little things to give students that bit of extra help along the way. “Chris George, who is the Community Projects Manager, is someone I have known for a very long time. He was my soccer coach when I was 11. So he took
me in from the start and showed me how the place worked.” Dimmock received a $500 scholarship from the Central Coast Reconciliation Group in 2010 and a $2500 Indigenous scholarship from Delta Electricity in 2011 to help cover the costs of University. Dimmock became aware of his Aboriginality during high school, after his mother discovered a picture of an Indigenous woman among some family photographs. It proved to be her great grandmother Matilda, Kurt’s great great grandmother. His people are from the Ngemba tribe, who originated on the Darling River, around Gundabooka. “My mother has delved into the family history and it is really interesting,” Dimmock says. “It is a completely different life that we didn’t know about. “It is something that was not discussed in my Nana Lorna’s family for a long time because that was the old way, so it is great to now be able to celebrate our Aboriginality.”
CULTURAL INSIGHT Wollotuka is laying out the welcome mat to all University employees, with the aim of promoting accord and inclusion in the workplace. When the staff of Wollotuka opened the doors of the Institute to University colleagues in 2011, they were surprised to find that some longstanding employees had never set foot inside the Birabahn building. “We had people who have been working at the University for 10 years or more who said they had always wanted to come over here but had never done so,” says Indigenous Employment Coordinator Dawn Townsend, who set up the Welcome to Wollotuka Institute staff induction program. “So we were very happy to have the opportunity to welcome them in.” Townsend established the induction with the University’s Human Resources area. It was the forerunner to a more comprehensive Cultural Competency program for staff also launched in 2011. Welcome to Wollotuka Institute is a 90-minute induction open to all staff and is designed to familiarise them with workings of the Institute. Participants are greeted by Elder in Residence Aunty Sandra Griffin, given an overview of the roles and functions of the institute, shown around the building, introduced to staff
and treated to a bush tucker morning tea, with culinary delights such as wattleseed tiramisu and Johnny cakes. The Cultural Competency workshop is a more in-depth, day-long program designed to both educate staff about Indigenous culture and promote dialogue about issues such as racism, discrimination and exclusion. “The aim is to get people thinking about what they have learned and how they can apply it in their day-to-day roles as employees of this University,” Townsend says. “At the end of the day people don’t say, ‘Well, I’m culturally competent now,’ but they realise they have taken a step along the way. “When we instigated this program, Sally Purcell, the Associate Director of Human Resources, said to me she believed that cultural competency would one day become part of the fabric of the University, and that is exactly what we hope to achieve. But to do that, we need to equip staff with the knowledge and confidence to deal with cultural difference.”
The Cultural Competency workshops and Welcome to Wollotuka Institute induction program are part of a wider commitment by the University to enhancing Indigenous collaboration, outlined as a priority in the institution’s strategic plan, Building Distinction. Another important step in galvanising the commitment to fostering wider Indigenous participation and a more collaborative work and study environment is the University’s Reconciliation Action Plan, which was launched in 2011. Leanne Holt, Wollotuka’s Director of Indigenous Student Support, Employment and Collaboration, says the Reconciliation Action Plan reinforces the aims and targets of the University’s strategic plan but also links them to actions and makes the University accountable to an external body, Reconciliation Australia. “The Reconciliation Action Plan strengthens the University’s commitment and demonstrates its leadership by linking with Reconciliation Australia,” she says.
Its reputation will quickly grow because we are already acknowledged as a university of first choice for Indigenous people, and this is a program that can meet a diversity of Indigenous vocational needs
A PROFESSIONAL APPROACH The new Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice will turn out career-ready graduates who are advocates for positive change.
The University of Newcastle has reshaped its flagship degree in Aboriginal studies, giving it a stronger cultural and vocational focus. The Bachelor of Professional Aboriginal Practice was introduced in 2011, replacing the Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies. The new program has more elements that prepare students for professional life, including a work placement option, but like its predecessor maintains an emphasis on providing an informed insight into the oldest continuing living culture in the world. Professor John Lester, of The Wollotuka Institute, describes the new program as a better balance of practical and cultural content. The components of history and politics that were a strong part of the former degree remain but are complemented by courses that provide professional skills and greater cultural exposure. “It is a program that appeals to people who want to make a difference in terms of social justice, who have strong support for Aboriginal programs and Aboriginal issues and want to study an interesting degree that will place them in those environments,” Lester says.
ADVOCATES FOR CHANGE
“They might end up working in the policy arena, in Indigenous support roles or in liaison positions in government. One of the prime motives for the stronger vocational focus is to prepare students to be advocates in their workplace, wherever that might be. “Whether they are Indigenous or nonIndigenous, they are likely to be in a minority position in the workplace and it is vitally important that we prepare them for the added pressure that advocacy brings. “The community expects a lot from these people – they expect social change to come from them – so we need to teach them how to deal with the weight of that extra expectation.” Students studying the new degree can major in Aboriginal Studies or opt for a major from a range of arts and social science programs. Health and management majors will be offered in the future. Students can undertake a six-week work placement with a sponsor company in their final years, and practical courses such as Academic and Career Communication offer a grounding in professional skills such as report writing.
The enhanced cultural component of the program is reflected in the inclusion of new courses, including Indigenous language and Torres Strait Islander studies. A particularly popular course has been Aboriginal Cultural Immersion, which offers a hands-on classroom experience introducing students to Indigenous dance, music, art and craft. The Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice is open to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and people undertaking other degrees can opt to study courses from the program with an Indigenous focus as electives. Core courses are delivered by Indigenous academics and classes are held within the Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies. Lester says there is no comparable program in Australia combining the vocational and cultural content of the Newcastle degree and he expects it to be a drawcard for students with a strong sense of social justice. “It is definitely the kind of degree I envisage people coming to Newcastle specifically to do,” he says. “Its reputation will quickly grow because we are already acknowledged as a university of first choice for Indigenous people, and this is a program that can meet a diversity of Indigenous vocational needs.”
It was an encounter with a group of Indigenous teenagers that prompted Liz Bachas to consider undertaking Aboriginal degree studies. While working as a security officer for an inner-city Newcastle hotel, she started talking to a group of young Indigenous people who frequently hung around the railway station opposite and asked them why they were always there. “There is nothing for us,” they told her. “There is nowhere else for us to be.” “That really affected me,” she says. “I wanted to know why they felt like that and if there was anything I could do to change things. I have a lot of respect for their culture and I felt it was my responsibility to learn more about it. As an Australian, it is part of my history, too.” Bachas began a degree in Aboriginal studies at the University of Newcastle shortly afterwards and in 2011 the 25-year-old became one of the first two students to graduate with the new Bachelor of Aboriginal Professional Practice. As part of the new program she completed a work placement with a not-for-profit organisation and through studying Aboriginal Cultural Immersion discovered talents for art and dance that she didn’t know she possessed. Bachus is now working in Indigenous employment placement and her goal is to work in a remote community. “There is a communication breakdown between Indigenous and nonIndigenous people in Australia and I want to help overcome that,” she says. “I want to find a role that allows me to do something that brings the cultures closer together.
A SHARED HISTORY Associate Professor Victoria Haskins believes a better knowledge of the events of the past can enhance our understanding of cross-cultural relationships today. It was a photograph of her grandmother with an Aboriginal woman that set Associate Professor Victoria Haskins on the path of probing an intriguing chapter of the Stolen Generations story.
negative and their relationships with white women very strained. I believe that remains a serious historical source of tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians today.”
Her grandmother was a child in the photograph and the Indigenous woman was a domestic servant, with whom her great grandmother Joan Kingsley-Strack had been very close. Haskins discovered her great grandmother was a pioneering activist in the 1930s who was outspoken about Aboriginal child removal, particularly young girls sent to work in white households.
Haskins says the removal of Indigenous girls and their placement into domestic service was a primary assimilation policy of Australian governments prior to World War II and she has always been intrigued as to why it was given such priority. She has discovered a similar governmentdriven agenda involving Native American girls in some of the southwestern states of the USA.
Haskins completed a PhD based on her ancestor’s experiences, later published as the book One Bright Spot , and has since continued to research cross-cultural relationships between white and black women in Australia and the links between enforced domestic service and government assimilation policies.
She is midway through a five-year Australian Research Council Future Fellowship project that involves a study of the experiences in both countries and examines the role and purpose of governments in this form of social engineering.
“When I started I was hoping to find more stories of collaborative alliances, like those of my great grandmother and the women who worked for her, but what I found were a lot of stories of abuse,” Haskins says. “The experiences of Aboriginal women in domestic service were mostly very
“It is interesting that this state control of Indigenous girls in domestic service around this time happens in these two places but there doesn’t seem to be any direct links or contact between the administrations of those countries,” she says. “One of the things that is striking is that regions in the US where it occurs are the newer states in the US, so their
incorporation into the nation is more recent and chronologically aligned with the time that Australia is emerging as a nation around and after federation. “I am looking at a theory that it was motivated by the concept of constructing a modern nation and establishing a societal hierarchy – that it was about managing relationships between the races in a way that strengthens and legitimises the whole settler-colonial process. “On a superficial level the idea was one of assimilation but in reality Indigenous women were not allowed to assert themselves and they were being kept in a position of subservience. So it was a strategy of containment and control, not one of inclusion.” Haskins is interested in how the impact of the domestic service policies continues to influence relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in contemporary Australia. “To me, Indigenous history is the most significant part of Australian history by a long shot,” she says. “I believe it is a history that every Australian carries and one that is profoundly important to all of us.”
TELLING THE HARD TRUTHS Professor Lyndall Ryan’s histories of the Tasmanian Aborigines weave together stories of shameful brutality and inspiring resilience. Professor Lyndall Ryan has drawn criticism over the years for her so-called ‘black armband’ view of Australian history but the historian has never stepped back from her view that colonisation was deliberately and overwhelmingly brutal to Indigenous peoples. On the contrary, Ryan is putting the finishing touches on a new book, Tasmanian Aborigines: A History Since 1803, that will argue that the frontier wars between settlers and Aborigines in Tasmania were even more violent than past histories suggest. Ryan, a former Head of Humanities on the University of Newcastle’s Central Coast campus and now a conjoint researcher, has been studying the Tasmanian Aborigines since she was a PhD student in the 1970s. As a one-time research assistant to celebrated Australian historian Professor Manning Clark, she was sent to Hobart to undertake research for him and had a pivotal meeting with an Aboriginal man, Tas Brown, who convinced her to delve into his people’s history. Her landmark book, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, released in 1981 and revised in 1996, painted a picture of conflict between British colonists and Indigenous tribes. It also challenged the belief that the Tasmanian Aborigines had died out. Instead, it revealed the existence of a strong population of descendants. In the early 2000s she was embroiled in Australia’s ‘History Wars’, when she became the target of criticism from
historian Keith Windschuttle, who argued in his book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, that violence against Indigenous people had been overstated by historians such as Ryan and that her books contained errors of fact. Although Ryan recalls the debate as an awful experience personally, she says it nevertheless proved the catalyst for deeper examination of this aspect of Australian history. The material she subsequently uncovered convinced her it was time for a complete new edition of her book on Tasmanian Aborigines. “The Aboriginal community in Tasmania is very prominent, very active and I think very successful. They have achieved so much over the past 20 years in terms of having land and ancestral remains returned, and achieving acknowledgement in many areas and so the story of their modern community forms a significant part of the book,” she says. “But there is also a new story about what happened in the Black War and my research indicates it was much more violent than previously realised. Many more Aboriginal people lost their lives than I had estimated and it had a profound impact for the next century not only on the Aboriginal survivors but also on the settlers who tried to hide what they had done.” Another potentially controversial argument in Ryan’s new book is that the impact of disease on the decline of the early Aboriginal population was not as critical as once thought.
“This idea that inadvertent introduced disease was responsible for eradicating populations is one of the great myths of colonial history that we really have to knock on the head,” she says. “My research shows that there was disease and it was important, but it came after their populations had been decimated by violence. It is the second phase and it hits when the populations are already depleted, when their food resources have been taken away from them, and the key men and women have been killed.” Ryan’s book is due out in mid 2012. She has also in recent years linked with the Violence and Social Order research group at Newcastle to collaborate on research into massacres, including the infamous Myall Creek Massacre, with the aim of inspiring a deeper examination of these events in Australian history. “Through that group I am collaborating with researchers who are examining massacres during the same period in Europe, the United States and South Africa. A comparative history is forming,” she says. “What it is showing is that colonisation, wherever it happens, is very violent and very bloody to Indigenous peoples. It is a big story and we hope it will produce some interesting results and pose some new questions as well.”
EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD A new Industry Scholarship program offers Indigenous students a helping hand financially and professionally. Bill Fisher’s official title is Industry Scholarships Liaison Officer but his unofficial job description includes the tasks of mentor, counsellor and confidante. Fisher was appointed in 2011 to oversee the University’s Industry-Based Indigenous Scholarships (IBIS), a new scheme that provides students with experience in the workplace while supporting them through their University studies. It is a partnership between Wollotuka and the University’s longrunning and highly successful Industry Scholarships program, which matches promising students with corporate sponsors. Fisher’s primary role is to administer the scheme and prepare the students and their sponsor companies for the work placements, but another rewarding part of his job is being a confidante and adviser to his young charges. A former finance industry professional and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission housing and employment manager, Fisher is happy to offer his vast life experience to help Indigenous students achieve their goals. The descendant of Awabakal and Worimi people says his background growing up in Aboriginal communities is as important a credential as any in his current job. “It is our way to take a community perspective so I don’t view myself as purely a liaison officer when I am working with Aboriginal students. When these kids come to university, their community and family issues come with them – so I am here to be a mentor and provide advice and help them find solutions to their problems. It is a more holistic approach.” IBIS was adopted with enthusiasm by industry sponsors in its inaugural year and is set to expand in 2012, with the Industry Scholarships team keen to hear from potential new sponsor companies.
Original plans to trial two dedicated Indigenous scholarships in 2011 quickly expanded to accommodate nine when both students and industry participants took a keen interest. Hunter New England Health and Coal & Allied came on board as the first sponsors, between them offering scholarships in engineering, business and nursing. The scholars were chosen from the ranks of first and second-year students, with most undertaking their first professional placement over the 2011 - 2012 summer holiday break. Like its parent Industry Scholarships program, IBIS provides recipients with financial support and professional experience in the workplace. The students are required to undertake 12 weeks of work placement with their sponsor companies, and receive annual scholarships of between $14,000 and $17,000, paid fortnightly. Industry Scholarships Manager Angela Samuels says another benefit of the scheme is that the IBIS students become part of the wider Industry Scholarships community on campus, a group well supported with regular social gatherings and practical career assistance such as preparing job applications, writing resumes and making the transition into the workplace. Fisher says creating a dedicated Industry Scholarships scheme for Indigenous students has helped to draw good candidates out of the woodwork, alerting them to the opportunities available. “With many Indigenous students it is not a lack of ability that stops them putting their hands up for things like this, it is a lack of confidence. With a scheme targeted specifically for them, we are able to break down that barrier to their participation.”
A CAREER KICK-START Alex Devlin was preparing for his first placement at the Mount Thorley Warkworth mining operation with sponsor company Coal & Allied when he spoke to Indigenous Collaboration but he had already experienced the benefits of the being part of the IBIS program. “The degree is pretty demanding – I live on the Central coast and I am up on the Callaghan campus five days a week, so it has taken the pressure off in terms of having to find part-time work and allowed me to concentrate more on my studies,” Devlin says. Devlin was awarded the scholarship at the start of the year and hopes his association with Coal & Allied will continue beyond his degree studies. “I hope to pick up a job with them at the end. Being part of the Rio Tinto Group they are an international company and I am interested in travelling after I graduate, so it is great to be able to build a relationship with them now.” Nursing student Diann Noon started her first placement with Hunter New England Health in November and within days was performing duties such as preparing medication and taking patients’ blood pressure. “It is hard work, but I learn a lot better when I am actually doing something, so I am really enjoying it,” she says. Noon, 26, has moved from Tamworth to Newcastle to study a Bachelor of Nursing. Her aim is to return to the country and to her two young daughters once she has her qualifications and ideally work in Indigenous health. She will complete part of her placements through the University Department of Rural Health (UDRH) at Tamworth Hospital. “My inspiration for studying nursing is my grandmother, who went into the profession in her 40s,” explains Noon, a first-year student who left school at 15 and entered university via the Yapug enabling program after deciding she wanted to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner. “The money I have received from the IBIS scholarship is a great help but for me the real value is in getting that on-the-job training. It helps my learning and I think it will be really important when it comes to getting a job.”
TEACHING & LEARNING
A BETTER START IN LIFE An innovative research project could help close the health gap by identifying the origins of disease in babies. A day in the diverse life of researcher Dr Kym Rae can range from observing a Zumba class for pregnant women to interpreting scientific data collected at antenatal check-ups. Her disparate activities are all working towards the same important aim: improving health outcomes for Indigenous mothers and their babies. Rae is the coordinator for the Tamworthbased arm of a major program being conducted by the University’s Mothers and Babies Research Centre investigating stress during pregnancy and the origins of disease in Aboriginal women and their babies. The centre has substantial National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding for two studies with a particular focus on kidney disease and diabetes, both major contributors to Indigenous mortality. A third part of the program, the need for which arose during community consultation, is an arts/health research project that is developing an antenatal education program for Indigenous expectant mothers. “We worked with Elders to establish the program and they felt we should take an arts-oriented approach. On the team we have Aunty Pearl Slater, an Elder and Aboriginal artist, working with the mums,” Rae explains.
“Added to this component are health elements such as hosting a dietitian, midwife or childhood nurse. The Zumba classes were suggested by the mums themselves, so we organised physiotherapy students to come in and take them through their paces.”
“We know that if you are born pre-term or with low birth-weight, your long-term health outcomes are far worse because of the developmental origins of disease. So if those little babies are starting life with their health disadvantaged, that creates something of a rolling storm.”
Many of the mothers who attend the antenatal sessions also participate in the scientific research programs. They are seen during each trimester of their pregnancy by Loretta Weatherall and Megan Naden, members of the research team, who take blood and urine tests and ask them to complete a survey about the stresses they may have been under during the period of their gestation. The babies’ growth and the health of their kidneys are assessed through ultrasounds.
The research team, which is directed by Professor Roger Smith and operates out of Tamworth, Newcastle and Walgett, has been studying pregnant women and their newborn babies for about two years. In October they received an additional $1.7 million in funding from the NHMRC to follow the babies and their mothers for another two years, creating a longitudinal study that they believe will be the first and most comprehensive of its type in the world.
By identifying and arresting health problems early in the lives of Indigenous children, the team hopes to prevent diseases developing at later stages.
Rae is the only non-Indigenous person among an otherwise all-Aboriginal, all-female research team in Tamworth. She says the advice and guidance of her colleagues on cultural matters and appropriate procedures has been critical to the success of the program and winning the support of the local community.
“The rates of premature delivery and low-birthweight babies among Indigenous people are about twice those of the non-Indigenous community. We often see tiny, vulnerable babies returning home to remote communities where they might not even have access to a general practitioner,” Rae says.
“We have recruited and trained Indigenous women to be research assistants, coordinators and role models. Their input into the program is absolutely essential,” she says.
BIRTH OF A NEW CAREER Studies in midwifery are delivering many benefits for Krystal Ronning.
Assisting with a birth for the first time and attending an international conference of Indigenous peoples in Peru are just two highlights of a whirlwind year for midwifery student Krystal Ronning. Ronning was among the first intake of students into the University’s new Bachelor of Midwifery degree at the start of 2011 and has found the program hands-on to say the least. “From week four we were on clinical placement, and through the degree we follow 30 women through their pregnancies, birth and post-natal care,” she says. For most students, the practical component of the course has been a baptism of fire. Ronning was one of the few with a nursing background, having studied at TAFE to become an enrolled nurse and completed a year of the Bachelor of Nursing before switching to the specialist midwifery degree. She also has childcare qualifications through TAFE. “This is the most practical course I have ever done. I am the sort of person who likes learning on the job so the hands-on aspect really suits me.” Not even the prospect of having to rouse her seven-year-old son Aidan in the middle of the night and transport him to his grandparents’ house is enough to diminish Ronning’s enthusiasm for the midwifery program. “If one of my women is birthing I have to drop everything and go to the hospital, no matter what time it is,” she says. “I am a single mum so it can be difficult juggling it all but luckily my parents are very supportive.
“I know in the end it will all be worth it. Midwifery is all I have ever wanted to do. I have just taken the long way around to get there.” Ronning attended the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPCE) in August with a delegation from Wollotuka and describes the trip as life-changing in many ways. She participated in presentations to delegates about the work of Wollotuka, attended seminars and revelled in the opportunity to meet Indigenous people from all over the world. “I got so much out of it, it was amazing to be able to experience other cultures and see enormous passion to get out there and do something to really make a difference,” she says. “I have so many wonderful memories. The opening ceremony, with the Indigenous cultures together in one place, was absolutely breathtaking. It was like all the language barriers just disappeared.” Ronning’s goal is to work in Indigenous health, especially in areas where midwifery care is under-resourced, but her trip to Peru has also whet her appetite for travel and she is contemplating taking her highly portable qualifications overseas when she completes her degree. “I have definitely got the travel bug now, and I really want my son to experience other cultures as well,” she says. “But my studies have also made me more determined to work within Indigenous communities and help address the inadequate healthcare in many areas.”
HIGHER LEARNING Gabrielle Fletcher wants to use her postgraduate study experience to help others reach their goals. There are many disciplines associated with online study, but fortunately, observing a dress code is not one of them. Reflecting on the experience of completing a Master of Social Science through GradSchool, the University of Newcastle’s postgraduate online learning arm, Gabrielle Fletcher speaks about the need for time management and a self-directed approach, then smiles as she adds, “But one of the good things is that you can go to lectures in your pyjamas!” An Aboriginal Studies lecturer with Wollotuka, Fletcher completed her Masters degree in 2011. It was her first experience of studying a complete degree program online and she is effusive about the flexibility of remote learning. And yes, because many of her online lectures were at night, she did often take the opportunity to slip into her PJs before logging on to join the group discussion. As the Research Support Development Officer in the Umulliko Indigenous Higher Education Research Centre, Fletcher’s role is to support Indigenous higher degree research candidates. “I was able to participate in the online program as both a student and a critical observer,” she says.
“Even though my Masters was coursework, there was still a lot to be learned that I can apply in this job. I will be working with students doing online study so it has given me a sense of empathy with them. “One of the things I did observe is that there is a missing context in online learning, and that can be challenging for Indigenous students because they often relate better to a visual or hands-on style of delivery. So an interesting part of my new role will be finding creative ways of providing those levels of context and cultural authenticity in an online environment.” Fletcher has been working with Wollotuka as a casual academic since relocating from Sydney to the Central Coast in mid2010. A Gundungurra woman who grew up in the Katoomba area, she studied an undergraduate Arts degree with dual strands in Sociology and Theatre Studies, before going on to postgraduate work in Indigenous Studies at Curtin University. She has worked as a lecturer at several universities and will continue teaching at Wollotuka. Her twin passions are Indigenous studies and creative writing, both of which she undertook as part
of her recent Masters. She will be undertaking a PhD in 2012 that will combine both elements. “I have an interest in Indigenous narrative, particularly ficto-criticism, which is a fusion of creative and critical writing,” Fletcher says. “I am interested in it as a way of being able to speak about the Indigenous experience and explore elements of our culture that I think are at times difficult to examine.” Fletcher once worked as a stand-up comedian – but the lure was in writing the material, not performing before an audience. Nevertheless, she enjoys taking centre stage as a lecturer and would like to expand her teaching to include creative writing. But her immediate priority is developing her role supporting Indigenous research higher degree students. “Indigenous students face many challenges and they are underrepresented at the postgraduate level so it is core business that we do everything we can to support these students to the completion of their studies.”
INDIGENOUS COLLABORATION 2011
DETERMINED TO SUCCEED
Pride in her people
In the field
The skyâ€™s the limit
A shared history
Published on Sep 16, 2012
An unwavering determination to succeed characterises the people and their stories in this latest edition of Indigenous Collaboration. For in...