It is hard to forget meeting Anne Martin. She might be unassuming and modest, but she’s a strong and passionate Indigenous woman who doesn’t mince her words. “Why do you want to do a profile on me?” she asks, “I don’t think people will be very interested.” Of course, that is her being modest. Everyone we spoke to for this profile said that ‘Aunty Anne’ is an exceptional advocate of Indigenous students and that more people should know about her work taking place at the Tjabal centre.
It is clear that Anne loves her students and her commitment is known throughout the university. Her view is that each student is a person from a community coming to Canberra as part of a journey, “And at the end of the day,” Anne says, “It’s their journey. I’m just a facilitator to help them along”.
Leadership from behind the scenes is a theme that flows through Anne’s impressive history. As a school student, Anne had to give up her schooling in order for her two older brothers to continue. She talked of her dreams of going to university even while she was at school, and the sacrifice of giving up that dream in order for her brothers. “The spirits of my ancestors fulfilled the journey I wanted to take,” says Anne, describing her journey to attending university as a mature-aged student raising a family. “When I returned to study, I felt honoured and privileged, I’d always wanted to go to university. My parents said to me “It’s your turn now. We will help you with your family” so I did it.”
Alongside her ANU work, community and family commitments, Anne is also the co-chair of the National NAIDOC Committee, this term marking a decade in the position. The National NAIDOC Committee decide the National NAIDOC Awards winners each year. “It is an absolute honour. Here I am across the table from a previous award winner (Jessa Rogers being named National NAIDOC Youth of the Year in 2010). It is amazing to see what our people are achieving”.
Anne says, “Receiving an accolade from your own mob is the biggest achievement. NAIDOC is really a celebration of our forefathers’ struggles. Something based on political activism has now developed into a celebration of our culture that the whole nation shares.”
Anne describes the students of the Tjabal centre as a source of inspiration. “I tell students ‘Go for gold. You will make a difference. Don’t underestimate yourselves. You’re the best’, and I mean that, they really are.” Anne also acknowledges the staff at the ANU. “People like Marnie Hughes-Warrington (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Richard Baker (Pro-Vice Chancellor), and others across the university – their level of support and the passionate manner in which they work with our students is making a difference – all of us working together.”
Anne often mentions working together as she discusses her lifetime of work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Describing her preferred way of operating as behind the scenes, she says “when choosing where to work, I have to like the people. ANU is that place. People here are willing to undertake the journey toward change. We cannot do this alone…Working with people is not always easy, but differences of opinion make for stronger solutions. That’s important.”
Anne has started programs across the nation to support Indigenous students in education from their earliest days, through family education, through to higher education. Her passion after returning from the Northern Territory to La Perouse in the 1990’s was to ensure children were literate and numerate before starting school. Developing a program started at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Anne created HIPPY (Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters), a two-year home-based early childhood program aimed at educating parents to become their child’s first teacher.
Anne is known for working selflessly to improve the rights of Indigenous people and has built connections nationally and internationally that she nurtures for the benefit of all Indigenous people. Speaking of Nelson Mandela, Anne says in her distinctively modest manner “I sent Mr Mandela a note at CHOGM in Edinburgh and he did a doorstop and offered to assist the Prime Minister around the issues of reconciliation and native title.”
It is hard to sum up Aunty Anne’s role at the ANU. She describes her job as “ensuring our students are given every opportunity to succeed in pursuing their dreams. The students inspire me so much; their results, the way they work. I have seen the first Indigenous surgeon graduate, the first Indigenous ambassador. They were my students. I’m the lucky one.”