Many ANU students often ask how they can learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and peoples when they attend university in Canberra, the site of which has been a traditional Aboriginal meeting place for centuries. Positioned on Ngunnawal country, students are often unaware they are sharing classes with the very people they wish to meet and know more about.
In this issue, I interviewed a few of my fellow Indigenous students at the Tjabal Higher Education Centre. Their stories and identities as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, are as diverse as the nations that make up the country we now share, known as Australia. Before the invasion by British colonizers in 1770, this continent was comprised of 200-300 tribes, nations and language groups.
Danielle Dries (Kaurna Nation) From South Australia
Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Surgery
“I started studying in 2005 at Charles Sturt University in physiotherapy. During that time I took a lot of time off due to medical issues and my father passing away; my Uncle also passed away in that time. I really became interested in Indigenous health during my undergraduate degree when I did placements in Coffs Harbour, Dubbo and Orange (NSW) and I became interested in rural health. I took seven years to complete that four-year degree, but I persevered and got there in the end.”
“After working for a year at North Shore Hospital in Sydney, I moved to Lismore and got a lot more involved in the local Indigenous community up there. I always wanted to work remote, so I looked for job opportunities in physiotherapy in remote communities, but there were very limited jobs. I talked to the ANU and they said they would support me in sitting the GAMSAT to get into Medicine. I sat the GAMSAT thinking I would never get into Medicine, but I thought I would give it a go, and here I am. I’m now in the third year of my Medical degree, and I’ll be doing my medical placement for a year in Lismore. I’ll also be in Yuendumu, in the Northern Territory for six weeks.”
“I recently won the Indigenous Rural Health Inspiration Award. I mentor a girl who just finished year 12 in Laidley in Queensland. She just got into a Bachelor of Exercise Science. I’m involved in Close the Gap through the ANU Rural Health Medical Society, [and] running ANU events for the past two years. I’m also the Indigenous Health Officer for the National Rural Health Student Network and involved with the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), trying to encourage Aboriginal people to study health-related degrees.”
“For me, being Aboriginal is about culture, and family, and a sense of belonging into a group of people that has been around for thousands of years. “
Danni had the honour of introducing Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the Closing the Gap breakfast in Canberra on Wednesday 11 February. At the event she said: “Close the Gap is important to me because it means my grandmother doesn’t have to lose all her siblings before the age of 60 to diabetes. It means my uncle doesn’t die from stroke at age 53. It means challenging the thoughts and beliefs about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and looking toward a positive future in partnership where our children have equality in health care, education and life expectancy.
“I hope that all of you do everything in your power to ensure that ours is the generation that sees health equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people become a reality.”
Brieanna Collard (Noongar Nation) From Perth, Western Australia
“I did a pre-med program at UNSW last year. I realised it wasn’t for me. I needed a break from everything. Moving away from family made it a little easier to study. I came over to the ANU, tried it out, and stayed. There’s a lot of guilt associated with studying away from home, it’s really difficult. But I guess in the long term it’s better. It’s a bit fun too.”
“I am so proud to be Aboriginal. I see my time as an opportunity to teach other people about our culture, and to learn for myself.
Rory Larkin (Katherine/Darwin Mob, Northern Territory) From Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Bachelor of Arts
“I had a gap year last year and worked full time. I realised I wanted to study, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I thought a Bachelor of Arts would help me find what I am interested in. I was going to do paramedicine and nursing at ACU but I came to the ANU because it’s a well-known university.”
“It’s sometimes hard to explain to people what being Aboriginal means. They sometimes don’t understand why some of us are white-skinned, when they expect that we are all black-skinned. If you see my family, there are Aboriginal people in my family that are black-skinned. Its hard to explain the differences. I identify as Aboriginal even though I don’t appear how some people stereotype our people. It’s not as simple as white or black skin.”
Lorna O’Shane (Kuku Yalanji & Western Yalanji Nations) from Cairns, Far North Queensland
Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Commerce
“I moved here from my home town of Cairns in Far North Queensland. I’ve lived up and down the East coast of Australia. I had worked for a really good period of time, and I wanted to go back to studies. I dropped out of university in my 20s; I was a science student at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. I’ve always wanted to come back, because I have a real passion. I wanted to come to the ANU because its one of the best universities in the country. Here I am.”
“Ten years ago if you asked about my Aboriginal identity I would have given you a different answer to the one I am giving you today. Part of the fight for Indigenous rights in any country is the right to be able to define yourself. My individual identity is very much tied up with my Aboriginal history, but all the other parts of me too. Being a black woman in this world is hard, anywhere. Here in Australia women are an important factor in taking communities forward. The education outcomes for women are getting better. I want to be a part of that.”
Jessica Rogers is Woroni’s Indigenous Affairs Reporter.
Photography by Jessy Wu.