- I was born in Dubbo in 1956, this is where I grew up, but spent most of my holidays in Moree. This means I have both Wiradjuri (through my father, Keith Riley – Dubbo) and Gamilaroi (through my mother – Delma Riley/Wright) Nation connections. If you check the Aboriginal Languages & Nations map produced by the AIATSIS you will get an idea of the extent of my two Nations. My closest cultural connections are to Dubbo-ga Country, of the Possum Clan. I am one of six siblings and have seven of my own children.
- Wiradjuri (Dubbo) and Gamilaroi (Moree)
I went to North Dubbo Primary School (1962-1968) and then onto Dubbo High School (1969-1974).
I went straight from High School into Armidale College of Advanced Education (1975-1977) where I did my teacher training as an Infants/Primary Teacher. Though my first appointment was to Moree High School as the Department of Education wanted an Aboriginal Teacher there to help solve the Aboriginal education/community crisis - still trying to work out what I could have possibly achieved as a 21 year old fresh from college. I loved Teacher's College or Armidale College of Advanced Education (ACAE) as it became. These were my best educational and social experiences. I made lots of friends and excelled in my studies. In high school I sailed under the radar - just wanted to get through. At ACAE I was determined to do well. The biggest problem was actually language difference - spent most of the time trying to work out the language and what was meant by lecturers, particularly in education theory. Funnily, I was getting High Distinctions in Science & Technology and barely getting a pass in Educational Theory. I had a friend who tutored me and that helped enormously.
I always wanted to be a teacher, decided that when I was around 8 years old. Luckily for me ABSTUDY was introduced as I entered High School and then as I was seeking entry to Teacher's College, otherwise I know I wouldn't have made it through school and Teacher's College.
I think the hardest things were firstly, low expectations from teachers - but I was going to prove them wrong. Poverty, we had no money for anything other than essentials, but I was supported by my parents in anything I wanted to do and they got support from other people in the community - Aboriginal family was very strong and many Non-Aboriginal people who supported our family.
The other was racism.
With low expectations I remember I wanted to do chemistry and a teacher told my father (both he and mum had only been allowed as Aboriginal people to go to 3rd class so they didn't have a clue what the subjects were about) that he thought this would be too hard for me. I did Biology instead and got top marks in the class. I never got to do chemistry, but you never know there’s still time.
Often I was unsure if it was the racism or my poor family conditions which were the real problems for other people. I learnt from this, not to really trust other people and that I could only rely on my family and myself. In all my years at school I had only three Non-Aboriginal friends whose families allowed me to visit their houses and got invited to only one party - that hurt, so it was more the social things. I guess this made be independent at an early age. I knew I had to rely on myself. In High School there were two particular incidents that affected me. The first was when I got the highest marks in class for a test - in economics - the other students - I was the only Aboriginal student in the year - said I must have cheated and actually screamed this in class and caused a major ruckus. I had a great teacher who supported me and never took the allegations seriously, but, the trauma from those comments meant I never ever got the highest marks again - just enough to get through.
The other incident involved my cultural obligations at school with all the younger Aboriginal kids - my sisters & brothers included - were told that as the eldest Aboriginal kid in the school (I was in Year 11 at the time and the only senior Aboriginal student in the school) I was to look after them. That meant they came to see me each recess and lunch time to catch up and let me know if there were any problems I could help with. The other senior students decided this wasn't appropriate and told me I would be in Coventry- not spoken to - if I kept this up. It was very hard. No-one spoke to me for a term. Then a new student arrived in the school, she sat next to me in class and spoke with me. That made life much easier. On the other hand I had nothing else to do in class except work, so they did me a favour as I wouldn't have gotten to Teacher's College without this effort - but a hard way to do it.
I got back into completing my Masters/PhD as a mature age person. It was hard – being a single parent, working full-time having to earn money and still get the study done. I enrolled in a great program with amazing support from my supervisor Prof. Rhonda Craven initially at UWS – for the Masters and then at ACU, Institute for Positive Psychology and Education, with Prof. Janet Mooney, when up-graded to a PhD. As an employee of the University of Sydney I have been able to access Study Leave to complete my research, analysis and thesis writing. This has made a huge contribution to the completion of my PhD.
As an Aboriginal person, whilst my first love is academia, I have felt it important not to just be an academic but to also get out in the community and help effect change in education. So my career has been eclectic. In academia I make sure I do research and writing that leads to real changes for Aboriginal people and not just in adding to educational knowledge. As I think without this mix, we aren't facing the reality of many people's lives and it would mean nothing to me. The other thing I have valued is being able to teach Aboriginal people and give them examples from my experiences (30 odd years in Aboriginal education primary school, high school, TAFE, Uni's and state education) to help them. I also like assisting Non-Aboriginal people to be more aware of the Aboriginal people as Cultural beings and the impact of colonisation on our communities. I guess what that means is I am most proud of being an advocate in changing systems and people.
To young Indigenous Australians about tertiary education in general, I would say, don't let other people define you; keep having a go. Don't stop and you will get what you want to achieve. The support is there if you need it.
- By 2016
I am working in the newly formed National Centre for Cultural Competence as a Senior Lecturer, Academic Leader. I have completed my PhD which has been submitted and passed, and awaiting my final corrections to be submitted for graduation. I look forward to teaching, research and ongoing projects which increase cultural competence for all people and to affect improvements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia.