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Unique learning hubs established in Kakadu, far west NSW and the Tiwi Islands

17 August 2016

Students to work with Aboriginal communities on a range of critical projects.

Today the University of Sydney announced an ambitious service learning program offering students opportunities to engage in meaningful community service while applying the experience to their academic and personal development.

Service learning hubs have been negotiated with Aboriginal communities in three regions: Kakadu, far west New South Wales and the Tiwi Islands. An additional hub is under consideration in western Sydney for early 2017.

Kakadu

Photo of University of Sydney student James Endean and custodian for a Mirarr sacred site in Kakadue Mark Djandjomer.

James Endean, science postgraduate studying Masters of Sustainability, University of Sydney Student with Mark Djandjomer, Custodian for a Mirarr sacred site in Kakadu.

In 2015, the University signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), the representative body of the Mirarr Aboriginal people of Kakadu in the Northern Territory.

A suite of projects has since been agreed by GAC and the University that will complement the Corporation’s ongoing socioeconomic development in the region.

This week, 10 students and three academics from the faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Law and Engineering and IT – involving the disciplines of Law, Government, Heritage Law, Cultural Studies and Network Science – began work with the community on an initial ‘Shared Decisions and Benefits’ model.

The model will become the cornerstone for future governance, decision-making, reciprocal learning and equitable distribution of benefits accruing to the Mirarr and other Aboriginal clan groups in the region.

Mr Shane Perdue, Director Strategic Management and coordinator of the initiative, said: “The opportunity for students and staff to work across disciplines and in very different cultural setting will have a real impact on students and deliver a tangible benefit for communities.”

Early next year work will begin on other projects that have been grouped into two overarching programs: ‘Caring for Visitors’ – encompassing tourism and economic development – and ‘We are all working on Country’, examining traditional land management, the green economy, regional Indigenous ranger programs and more. The projects are particularly relevant given the imminent ending of operations at the Ranger Uranium Mine near Jabiru.

GAC Chief Executive Officer, Justin O’Brien, said: “Indigenous communities are too often unfairly confronted with a host of complex social and development issues that often seem intractable. This is taxing on the limited resources in many communities. Today we have a chance to practically engage the intellectual capital of one of Australia’s largest universities, with over 50,000 students, to assist this region in tackling systemic disadvantage and provide for a new regional economy post-mining.”

Sydney Law School Juris Doctor student Elizabeth Pearson is excited about the opportunity to take part in the project. She said: “By working together as team, hopefully we can give back to the Traditional Owners in return. As a law student, it’s exciting and extremely refreshing to have the chance to extend the knowledge and skills gained from our curriculum by engaging in a highly practical, hands-on initiative to promote social justice.”

Far west New South Wales

The University has also signed an MOU with Murdi Paaki Region Assembly (MPRA) in far west New South Wales. In September, up to 10 students and four staff from the faculties of Engineering and IT and Health Sciences will begin work on two projects developing innovative aged care service models and alternative energy solutions for remote communities.

Mr Sam Jeffries, Chairperson, Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly, said: “This is a unique opportunity available to us. We are happy to partner with Australia’s oldest university to deliver real gains for Aboriginal people in the state’s far west.”

Tiwi Islands

On Friday 19 August, Dr Spence will sign an MOU with the Tiwi Islands Regional Council. From Semester 1 2017, students will engage in three government and policy projects with the local community. The projects will include the development of a framework that reintegrates culture, knowledge and traditional practice in community behaviours, policy and structures. It is anticipated the other projects will focus on the nature and role of local government in remote Aboriginal communities and a range of development and policy initiatives.

Dr Marion Scrymgour, Chief Executive Officer, Tiwi Islands Regional Council, said: “The Tiwi Islander Regional Council is delighted to be working with the University of Sydney, a world ranked university. We look forward to the work ahead and to realising our shared vision for students and for Tiwi.”

Other service learning projects at the University

Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning: Burri Gummin Affordable Housing Project

This semester the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning is running a Special Research Studio working in conjunction with the Centre for Appropriate Technology and the Yarrabah Community in the Cairns district to investigate appropriate and sustainable design solutions for community housing in the hot humid tropics of Australia.

Faculty of Agriculture and Environment: Indigenous Land and Food Knowledge

Indigenous Land and Food Knowledge is a new intensive unit of study coordinated by the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment. In July, a group of students and staff visited Darwin, Katherine and Kununurra for a range of educational experiences and are now preparing feasibility studies for agricultural expansion projects in consultation with the community members they met. 

Follow the students’ experience