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A photo of a plastic hand with the words 'I support Reconciliation' written on it.
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10 Indigenous staff and students taking the next steps

26 May 2017
Celebrating National Reconciliation Week 2017

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students reveal what this year's National Reconciliation Week means to them, and the steps they're taking in the journey to achieve reconciliation. 

This week, under the banner ‘Let’s take the next steps’, Australians will celebrate important achievements in the journey towards reconciliation.

We asked 10 of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students to reflect on what the week means to them, how far they think we’ve come and what more needs to be done.

1. Irene Higgins – creating a community on campus

Irene

Watch University of Sydney student Irene share her thoughts on National Reconciliation Week 2017.

In her second year of a Bachelor of Law and Science, majoring in Psychology, Irene volunteers with the University’s new Mentoring Our Brothers and Sisters peer mentoring program.

“As a proud Wiradjuri woman, I love our value of connections, whether that be with the land, our past or each other,” she says.

The program puts commencing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in contact with current students, who can provide advice, guidance and support during the critical first year of study.

“I don't want statistics to continue to show that we have a higher mortality rate, a lower life expectancy, a higher chance of being incarcerated. It is only with dedication, resilience and collaboration that Australians will be able to achieve this.”

2. Matt Poll – celebrating and repatriating Indigenous heritage

Matt

Matt from the University's Macleay Museum discusses National Reconciliation Week 2017. 

The histories of Australia’s First Nations people sustainably surviving on their lands for tens of thousands of years have so much to contribute to the way the world is preparing for its future.
Matt Poll, Assistant Curator Indigenous Heritage

Of South Sea and Torres Strait Islander heritage, Matt is Assistant Curator Indigenous Heritage at the University’s Macleay Museum. He makes the museum’s collections accessible to all sections of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island community.

“Future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could look at the same objects we see in museums today and use them to practice and maintain culture in ways that haven’t been imagined before – while at the same time continuing hundreds of generations of learning, sharing and teaching,” he says.

Matt will chair a Sydney Ideas / Macleay Museum event on 31 May, ‘Arts and Aboriginal Australia: decolonization or reconciliation?’.

“I’m optimistic I’ll see real change and justice for Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in my own lifetime."

3. Simone Armstrong – working with rural communities to make a real difference

Simone

University of Sydney student Simone reveals her thoughts on National Reconciliation Week 2017.

A proud Bundjalung woman, Simone is a third-year veterinary student.

During her breaks, she volunteers with Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities (AMRRIC) in the Northern Territory to gain experience and support rural communities.

“Once I get my doctorate, I’d love to work with rural Indigenous communities and organisations, treating animals to benefit the entire community.”

Simone will present the student address at the Reconciliation Week Flag Raising Ceremony on Monday 29 May, and encourage all Australians to become excited about Indigenous culture.

“I’m so proud of the rich culture and strong resilience of my people. Indigenous Australians have existed on this land for 60,000 years. Their farming practices meant the land was nourished and could be kept for generations to come.

“We learnt to do that by listening to our Elders, and I think that’s the path to reconciliation.”

4. Wessley Armstrong – inspiring young people to pursue higher education

As a high school student in Newcastle, Wessley attended the Wingara Mura Summer and Winter programs run by the University’s Widening Participation and Outreach (WPO) – an experience he describes as eye-opening.

“Ever since I was a kid I’d wanted to be a vet, but once I got to the University I realised there were so many more options to choose from,” he says.

From Boigu Island in the Torres Strait, Wessley is now in his second year of a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Film Studies and a WPO student leader himself. He’ll be working with Year 7 and 8 students attending Experience Uni on campus during National Reconciliation Week.

“In terms of reconciliation, education is the next step. A baseline understanding of what reconciliation means for Indigenous people will also limit racism in Australia. When people understand how important it is they’ll recognise it needs to happen.”

5. Adjunct Associate Professor Carmen Parter – removing inequity in our health system

We need to address the health inequities and racism that is evident in our health system and continues to sustain poor health of Indigenous Australians.
Adjunct Associate Professor Carmen Parter

A leader in Indigenous health, Carmen joined the University as a Fellow in the Wingara Mura Leadership Program, which supports early career academics as they complete their PhD studies.

Her research, conducted through the University’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, focusses on the value of embedding Aboriginal culture and Indigenous Knowledge in health policy.

“My greatest hope is that my grandchildren, their children and grandchildren will have the same health status commensurate as other Australians, so that they get to live longer to enjoy the pleasures that others would take for granted," she says. 

6. Brian Marshall – overcoming the legacy of the stolen generation

A photo of Brian Marshall

Brian Marshall, Research Project Manager.

Brian works with the Preparing More Indigenous Teachers at the University of Sydney Taskforce developing strategies to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at the Sydney School of Education and Social Work; they’re also designing a unique world-leading Teacher Education Indigenous Languages Program.

The son of a member of the stolen generation, Brian generously shared his family’s story during the recent Living Library on campus.

“We need opportunities for more Australians to meet Elders and Stolen Generations people, to learn about the great sacrifices made and use this information to make a difference,” he says.

“If we honestly take account of and learn from the past, Australia can finally move forward, ensuring all children and mothers are protected, which is central to the future growth of the nation.”

7. Simone-Cherie Holt – supporting our students to reach their potential

An Indigenous Student Recruitment and Support Officer at the Faculty of Health Sciences’ support centre Yooroang Garang, Simone-Cheri builds connections with students and their families to support them in their studies and in their future health careers.

"I feel honoured that I can work with the younger generations, passing on my knowledge and supporting them to achieve their goals,” she says.

Simone-Cherie believes access to cultural knowledge and higher education will be key to achieving community goals and reducing health disparity.

“As a nation we should acknowledge the wealth of knowledge and wisdom that exists in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and strive to use this knowledge in our education and health practices.”

8. Professor Shane Houston – creating the next generation of leaders

Shane

Listen to Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services), share his thoughts.

I’ve seen students step out onto country and be changed by that experience. If we can create that for Australia, just think what this nation could achieve.
Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services)

As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services), Shane leads our institution-wide Wingara Mura-Bunga Barrabugu (WMBB) strategy to advance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation, engagement, education and research.

“My role is to bring a new way of thinking and character to this uniquely Australian institution – one that embraces Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, knowledges and cultures to make it a better place for everyone,” he says.

A Gangulu man from central Queensland, Shane’s tenure has seen a significant increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, students and graduates. He has also overseen numerous community projects and support initiatives on campus.

“We need to embrace Charles Perkins’ message. There is 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture available to us, all we need to do is ask."

9. Nathaniel Tamwoy – inspired to help as he was helped

A photo of Nathaniel Tamwoy

University of Sydney student Nathaniel Tamwoy.

When Nathaniel was 12 he had a long stint in hospital – an experience that influenced his choice of study.

A proud Argun man from Badu Island in the Torres Strait, Nathaniel is now in his second year of a Bachelor of Applied Sciences (Occupational Therapy) degree and plays rugby with Sydney Uni Football Club.

“When you play sport you don’t think of each other as anything but a team mate. In order to win, you have to work together.

"It’s the same with reconciliation.

“The best way to understand a culture is to get to know the people who live in that culture. So just ask, be my friend, I’ll teach you and you’ll teach me.”

10. Michael Mossman – working with students and community to solve real world problems

Michael is a Cairns Murri who is a descendant of Kuku Yalanji and Bar Baram country. As a lecturer and researcher at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, he encourages students to learn from and utilise the knowledge systems of both university and community scholarship.

“Immersing oneself in community ways allows a two-way learning process that benefits all parties involved in the engagement,” he says.

Last year he and a group of Master of Architecture students engaged with Yarrabah community leaders on environmentally-sustainable and culturally-sensitive housing designs. The works formed an exhibition at the Tin Sheds gallery earlier this year.

“Projects like this have the potential to contribute to positive community outcomes as well as the transfer of knowledge to future generations. I hope Australia’s future can continue to embrace diversity in ways of being, knowing and doing that is respectful and inclusive of all worldviews.”

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