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After 25 years of Aboriginal tertiary education at Deakin, there are many success stories, and many happy statistics, but none please Professors Wendy Brabham and Mark Rose from the Institute for Koorie Education more than this one: There is no Aboriginal family in Victoria which has not been linked to a graduate from the University.
“The Institute of Koorie Education will celebrate its 25 years this year but really every day is a celebration for our students and for our community, for what they and their families have been able to achieve through the Higher Education Agreement between Deakin University and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated” Professor Brabham said.
“Deakin University has changed the landscape of Aboriginal employment in Australia by providing opportunities for Aboriginal people to get a degree through the specialised community based delivery model.
“Students stay in the communities and continue their family, working and community roles while undertaking their studies.”
Deakin University has long been a leader in distance education, not just in Victoria but nationally.
“Our students come from all over Australia and at graduation ceremonies, it is wonderful to hear them thanking our Victorian Elders for their roles in helping create and expand the Institute over the past 25 years.”
The Institute has grown from one portable classroom and one discipline to now offering programs from Arts and Education to Business and Law, Health, Nursing and Behavioural Sciences and Science and Technology.
Offering over 18 Faculty degrees at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, the Institute has become a destination of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.
“And yet we continue to dream” with a proposal for a medical program to increase the number of Aboriginal Doctors on the table.”
At the Institute of Koorie Education teaching and learning are interconnected with the many research agendas determined in Aboriginal communities. To achieve this Deakin University has positioned itself historically at the cutting edge by embracing Indigenous Knowledge Systems at the highest academic level through its Academic Board.
“The University’s Academic Board is the only one in Australia to acknowledge Indigenous Knowledge Systems in this way.” Professor Mark Rose said.
He and Professor Veronica Arbon joined the Institute a few years back and were appointed as Chairs for Indigenous Knowledge Systems.
Deakin University boasts three of the state’s six Aboriginal Professors. This is a significant statement and investment by the University in supporting Aboriginal research growth.
“But real, genuine cutting edge research was going on here at the Institute before Veronica and I arrived.”
For many years the Institute has conducted community based research under the guidance of Doctors Aunty Mary Atkinson (Honourable Ancestor), John Henry, Alf Bamblett and the many State Aboriginal Organisations that are closely align with the Institute.
Professor Brabham, who has been at Deakin since 1988, is adamant the main reason for the Institute’s growth from dusty demountables to its current building beneath the giant swaying eucalypts on the Waurn Ponds campus is the fact it was and is community-based, that it draws on the energies and wisdom of the Elders as much as academic rigour.
She is keen to honour pioneers like Aunty Iris Lovett (Honourable Ancestor), Aunty Laura Bell, Aunty Joan Vickery, Uncle Jim Berg, Dr. Sarah Berg, Uncle Phil Cooper, Aunty Melva Johnson, Aunty Betty Pike, Aunty Dawn Wolf, Aunty Flo Brabham (Honourable Ancestor), Uncle Ivan Couzens, Joy Smith, Geraldine Atkinson, Esme Bamblett, Uncle Herbie Pettit, Aunty Rochelle Patten, Aunty Lynne McInnes, Aunty Jacqueline Johnson, Aunty Jean Cavanagh (Honourable Ancestor) and Aunty Faye Langdale (Honourable Ancestor) just to name a few who were powerful advocates of tertiary education for Aboriginal people at Deakin University.
With over 500 students attending Intensive Study Blocks at regular intervals over the academic year and staying at the Kitjarra residences is an obvious boost to the local economy here in Geelong.
“I reckon there have been times when our students coming here for their study intensives have kept the Gull Bus Service between Melbourne Airport and Geelong going, in low economic times” she laughs.
“So there are so many things to celebrate every day - our contribution to the broader Geelong community, our teaching successes, our dedicated staff, our research achievements that now sees us with more post graduate students than any other university, but especially the way a genuine partnership is honoured between Deakin University and the Victorian Aboriginal communities”.