Dr Reuben Bolt: first Indigenous Health Science PhD

Dr Reuben Bolt is the first Indigenous student to graduate with a doctorate degree from the Faculty of Health Sciences. His research into Aboriginal identity is set to deepen the way Indigenous people are understood in Australia and the rest of the world.

Dr Reuben Bolt

The aim of Dr Bolt's PhD thesis is to better understand the process of the construction of Aboriginal identity, particularly in urban communities.

Bolt, who comes from the Shoalhaven area where his study took place, imbued his qualitative research with personal experience and an insider's view, which shaped the design and development of his proposal, the recruitment of participants, and the final analysis of the data.

"I had become interested in the topic of Aboriginal identity during my early teens when I experienced identity-questioning episodes," Bolt says.

"Ultimately, I questioned my sense of 'authentic' Aboriginal identity. I later came to understand that the romantic version of Aboriginality - the so-called 'true' Aborigine - was a key influence in these identity-questioning episodes."

Bolt's family joined him in the Great Hall for the proud occasion of his graduation - his wife, three-year-old daughter, newborn son, both parents, his aunt, two sisters and his 82-year-old grandmother.

Bolt says that breaking the culture of non-academic achievement in his family was another strong motivating factor behind his work.

"The political climate [of the 40s, 50s and 60s] made it very difficult for Aboriginal people to become educated, effectively resulting in my mother and her siblings not finishing their intermediate schooling education. To break this cycle I decided to finish my Higher School certificate. I did that in 1994. At that time it was a major goal, especially given that I wanted to be the first grandson to complete the HSC (out of about 40 grandchildren).

"In 1998 my father asked if I would be interested in studying at university. Initially I said no. After he had asked many times, I decided to go to uni to 'try it out'. Now, almost 12 years later, I have a BHS with Honours, a Masters degree and a PhD."

Researching a topic that was close to him drove him forward he says.

"The most enjoying part was studying a topic that I was very passionate about. This provided me with the motivation and determination to succeed. Another motivation was knowing that the completion of this study would be a very significant achievement for my family, and for Aboriginal people in general."

Along with many of his friends and colleagues, Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences was on hand to congratulate him, saying, "This is an exciting event for our Faculty. We congratulate Reuben on his wonderful achievements and exciting future with his new position, and in particular being the first Indigenous student to graduate with a PhD in our faculty."