Indigenous knowledge and culture at the University of Melbourne

I think it’s very interesting, actually, to come to a new country anyway, but to come to a new country that was settled by colonial people a couple hundred years ago or so, but embedded in a place which has been occupied by an Indigenous population, for tens of thousands of years, is particularly fascinating. But then to go out into the countryside here in Australia and see the vastly different flora and fauna and then to realise that to make sense of that, you’ve probably got to make sense of it in a different way. And then to really talk to some of our Indigenous friends and colleagues where they start to explain some of their thinking about how the world is organised, that’s just life enhancing. It’s just great to be able to learn new things from people in different cultures. I really enjoy that sort of thing. And I think that working with our various colleagues locally, our Wurundjeri people here but then the Yorta Yorta people up in Shepparton and then going to Garma for the first time for me in August and seeing our Yolngu colleagues up there, that’s just been really facinating. It’s fabulous. It’s sort of everything I hoped for, the best of researchers and teachers in my area, public health and medicine, but I’ve also joined a great team of Indigenous leaders who over at least two decades have been doing work that’s nationally important, but also linking up with different indigenous communities from around the world. They’re enormous. I think you know, we’ve done a lot over the last 20 years nationally, but linked up solutions, why wouldn’t you think about an approach to Indigenous youth mental health with colleagues in Canada and Norway and Australia and New Zealand. And share that knowledge. I’m really excited by that. I think that I’ve been interested in First Nations issues around the world. And I think each Indigenous population in different countries has their own set of opportunities and challenges. But there are quite a few opportunities and challenges that are shared between different First Nations people. And I think learning from each other about those kinds of things is always powerful. Since we started focusing on Indigenous PhD recruitment, we now have the most Aboriginal graduate research students in the country at any one institution. I want to change the language from recruitment to graduations and that’s where we need to be focusing. But it’s the work around place and cultural recognition that will actually make the student experience here enriching, not assimilating for them, but also to take the best of what we’ve got as a university and they’ll contribute to our university as well in terms of changing the place. That’s very important. I regard university as a community and we all learn from each other within that community. It’s not one-way traffic, and we’ve got as much to learn from our students as they have from us in many respects, and certainly we have as much to learn from our Indigenous students as they do from us in so many respects. Duncan and Sandy, thanks for the conversation as we’re thinking about the University of Melbourne key recruitments coming up, but also our longer term aspirations, place is core to our new strategy as it develops and the opportunities and obligations around Indigenous advancement in that.

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