Indigenous Australian Studies continues to expand with the addition of a new Honours course

20 October 2011

This week the Koori Centre announces a brand new Honours course in Indigenous Australian Studies, offering the opportunity for students to further build career opportunities in this dynamic field.

The University of Sydney's Koori Centre had its beginnings in the Aboriginal Teachers Aides training program, which began in 1975 as part of the now-disbanded Department of Adult Education.

The Centre, based in the Old Teachers College, offers diverse study opportunities to students at the University of Sydney, as well as a wide range of support services and research facilities.

This Friday 21st October between 12-2pm, the Koori Centre is holding an information session for students interested in undertaking any Indigenous Australian Studies courses, including the new Honours program.

A conversation with Dr Peter Minter, the Indigenous Australian Studies Major and Honours Coordinator within the Koori Centre

What do you see as the role of the Koori Centre within the University of Sydney?

The Koori Centre builds on the University's very long-term commitment to Aboriginal studies, which began in the early 20th Century with anthropologists like Adolphus Elkin and others, who were central to the development of Aboriginal Studies as a scholarly discipline in Australia and internationally. Since those early days the University of Sydney has always been a leader in the field, as is shown by the many renowned Aboriginal Studies scholars throughout the Faculty of Arts.

Since the 1970s the Koori Centre has been central to Aboriginal teacher education, which is a very important part of improving outcomes for Indigenous students and their families and communities. The Centre run programs in education for Aboriginal students from all around Australia, who after graduating return to their communities with a University of Sydney degree in Education.

What courses within the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are related to the centre?

What's really exciting at the moment is that we're developing and expanding an Indigenous Australian Studies major within the Faculty. This will provide opportunities for students who are interested in exploring and developing their own commitment to Aboriginal affairs and Aboriginal culture within Australia.

The Koori Centre is really a hub, in a sense, for both Indigenous students who are interested in developing their careers through studying at the University, and also non-Indigenous students who are keen to explore that area for their own futures as well.

How have these courses grown in recent times?

Our Indigenous Australian Studies major is currently undergoing an exciting expansion, a process we began last year but which is really picking up from 2012. Students are now able to take a broad range of undergraduate units of study leading into honours and hopefully postgraduate study as well.

We've loosely defined those units into five main study streams: creative arts; history; health and wellbeing; politics and rights; and languages and cultures. Students are free to move across those streams however they like, and also take other cross-listed units of study with other departments within the Faculty. For instance, within the creative arts stream students can take units of study in Indigenous Creative Expression and Indigenous Screen Cultures, and I personally teach units of study in Aboriginal literature, poetry and ecopoetics. We also offer a range of units of study that explore history, politics, rights, race and gender, and units in Indigenous community development and health for those students who are interested in more hands-on and culturally informed interfaces in their vocational work with Indigenous communities.

Interestingly, one of the very prominent growth areas within the Indigenous Australian Studies major is teaching in Indigenous languages. John Hobson and Susan Poetsch, two of our academics at the Centre, are attracting attention for the important work they're doing in Aboriginal languages.

Perhaps the most important factor is that students who take our major benefit from Indigenous led teaching and research across a range of Aboriginal studies areas.

Who are typical students of the course? Are they themselves indigenous?

The student body in Indigenous Australian Studies is primarily made up of non-Indigenous students. We offer all of our units of study to anyone who's enrolled within the Faculty, and in the University.

Our philosophy is really to keep our teaching and research open and to embrace students from any background. I suppose we feel that an important broader cultural context for a major of this kind is to contribute something to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples within our country and how that's unfolding in our history.

What is some of the feedback you have received from indigenous students about the role the Koori Centre has played in their university experience?

We get a lot of feedback about the Koori Centre. We have identified staff who work quite closely with our Indigenous students all the way through their degrees, from their point of entry to their graduation. There's a special entry program for Indigenous students called the Cadigal Entry Program, where various academic skills are taught in order to improve the retention of those students as they're beginning to become familiar with the University environment. It also focuses on supporting these students all the way through their degrees.

We've had some fantastic graduations of Indigenous students in recent years, where their families join us at the Koori Centre and we enjoy a glass of champagne and some cake after they've graduated in the Great Hall. In our common room at the Koori Centre we have a whole wall of photographs of Indigenous students who have graduated. So that support function is really important to the retention and graduation of Indigenous students, which is one of the priorities of the Commonwealth, and of the University.

Can you give an example of a Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences student, who has utilised the Koori Centre, either as a support base while studying at the uni, or has undertaken one of the courses you have been affiliated with, who has gone on the affect change in the community in some way?

We've had some fantastic students over the years. One that comes to mind is a student, Chloe Johnco, who worked with us a couple of years ago, and since graduating has moved to the Torres Strait. She was employed with Torres Strait Regional Authority, and has had a very successful career in law and culture processes in the Torres Strait. Chloe still keeps in touch with us now.

Chloe is an outstanding example among many, really. We've had a whole number of students over the years who have gone on in law and in other areas of the humanities, in the media, in writing and cultural administration. Some fantastic students in the disciplines of history and anthropology have gone on to further postgraduate study, who have really benefitted from the Indigenous-led teaching within the Koori Centre, which provides culturally informed, on the ground knowledge and experience to students who are interested in working in the area.

Are there any exciting upcoming events or initiatives we should know about?

I'm very pleased to announce that from 2013 the Koori Centre will be offering an honours program in Indigenous Australian Studies. Students who are keen to continue to expand their horizons in Indigenous Australian Studies are very welcome to contact me personally, or other staff at the Koori Centre, to begin a conversation about considering that as a future option.

On Friday, October 21, between midday and 2pm, we're holding an information session for students who might wish to explore Indigenous studies generally, but also to invite students to begin considering our new Honours program. We'll be catering lunch, which is always an attractive proposition! The session will be held in Room 215 in the Old Teachers' College building.

We look forward to meeting any students interested in Indigenous Australian Studies — everyone is welcome!

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208

Email: 1e5640126f14184d3d0130404f162a041a422f0b3e7c1210