UNE celebrates Indigenous heritage

Published 07 July 2008

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A ceremony at the University  of New England today to mark the beginning of NAIDOC Week drew together people from the University and Armidale communities to celebrate the Indigenous heritage of the region and to reflect on some of the inequities that remain in Australian society.

The speakers at the ceremony focused on the theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week – “Advance Australia Fair?” – in their comments on the past and present, and their vision for the future.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Pettigrew, expressed his thanks for the contributions of Indigenous people to society both regionally and nationally. “We owe it to them to ensure that our society is a fair society,” he said.

Professor Pettigrew confirmed UNE’s commitment to moving towards such a society by continuing to provide both employment and educational opportunities for Indigenous people.

Geraldine Cutmore, who represented the University’s Indigenous students, spoke about a local program in which a group of teenagers – most of them Aboriginal – had prepared and presented exhibits in dog shows throughout the region with outstanding success, and had been welcomed by the communities in which they exhibited. Ms Cutmore, who is a case manager for the Benevolent Society and a youth worker for the Street Beat Armidale Project as well as a first-year Arts student at UNE, said this was an example of the sort of “inclusive practices” that could “make Australia fair”.

Jill Ahoy, speaking as a representative of the Indigenous community, said the apology to the “stolen generations” by the incoming Australian Government in February had been a “great milestone”, and that now “our nation needs to move on together”. She said Indigenous Australians could achieve “a fair go” only with the support of their non-Indigenous fellow citizens, but that “together as Australians we can achieve anything”.

Bruce Cohen, the community member who presented the Welcome to Country that opened the ceremony, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land – both past and present – and thanked UNE’s Oorala Aboriginal Centre for organising and hosting the event.

The ceremony concluded with the raising of the Aboriginal Flag.

NAIDOC (originally standing for “National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee”) is a national celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Aden Ridgeway, who chairs the National NAIDOC Committee, has explained that the aim of the “Advance Australia Fair?” theme is “to encourage people to reflect on the Australian principle of “a fair go”, and to consider the inequalities still experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country today”.

THE PHOTOGRAPH of Professor Alan Pettigrew and Geraldine Cutmore displayed here expands to include Michael Brogan, an Associate Lecturer at UNE’s Oorala Centre, who was today’s Master of Ceremonies.