The University of New England reaffirmed its commitment to the empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at a flag-raising ceremony on Monday to recognise NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander) Week.
The ceremony, organised by UNE’s Oorala Aboriginal centre and held on the lawns of “Booloominbah”, brought together people from UNE and the Aboriginal and wider communities of Armidale. It was also attended by about 100 Aboriginal high-school students from throughout northern NSW who were visiting UNE for a day of experience and information about studying to be a teacher.
To mark the Week’s significance, three moving speeches, each relating to this year’s NAIDOC Week theme “Honouring our Elders, Nurturing our Youth”, were presented by local Aboriginal Elder and youth representatives Mr Gerald Widders and Zacariah Ahoy, and UNE student Kevin Toby.
Mr Widders spoke about the role of Aboriginal Elders who, he said, “for many generations through the tradition of oral learning have imparted their knowledge, experiences and understanding to ensure our history and identity will not be forgotten.” He said that, as an Elder, he would encourage his grandson Zacariah Ahoy and his peers to gain the “personal strength and character” that would enable them to face the challenges of adulthood.
Zacariah, a Year 9 student at Armidale High School, said that this year’s theme “encourages our community to acknowledge the status of our Elders as leaders and role models for our youth”.
During the ceremony, UNE’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Graham Webb, emphasised the importance of empowerment through education, and UNE’s history of – and commitment to – delivering tertiary education support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“At UNE, we presently have 270 students identifying themselves as Indigenous studying across 10 Schools, and 31 enrolled in cross-institutional studies, the TRACKS academic preparation program, and UNE’s Pathways Enabling course,” Professor Webb said. He explained that UNE’s initiatives underpinned its long-term commitment to improve equity of access to education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and noted the Oorala Aboriginal Centre’s important and integral role in the University’s support network for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
“We offer a Bachelor of Indigenous Studies degree, and also a Graduate Certificate in Indigenous Studies, with a central focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues,” he continued. “And UNE offers alternative admission to the Bachelor of Medicine – Joint Medical Program, and four Indigenous students are enrolled in this program.”
Kevin Toby is one of those medical students. He outlined his former career as a train driver (for eight years) and a police officer (for 10 years), and his experience of higher education in gaining a degree in business management. “If I had not gone through the initial process of furthering my education,” he said, “I would not be here today, at this great university, as a medical student aiming to become a doctor and to give back to rural and remote Aboriginal communities – helping my people where help is most needed.”
THE PHOTOGRAPH of Kevin Toby displayed here expands to include (from left) Rebecca Waters from the Oorala Aboriginal Centre (who acted as MC at Monday’s ceremony), Zacariah Ahoy, Gerald Widders, and Professor Graham Webb.