Yesterday, in a stirring address, eminent elder and mentor Professor Bob Morgan, of the University of Newcastle, presented the 2017 Patyegarang Oration.
Professor Morgan, a Gumilaroi man from Walgett in the Western plains of NSW, began by telling a little of his own story. His greatest teacher, his mother, encouraged him to both engage in formal education, facilitating participation in broader society, and cultivate the culture and language of his own community.
A theme recurring in Professor Morgan’s address was the importance of community and community engagement. Using a elder’s story, with the concept of a garden basket, Morgan equated knowledge with nourishment, showing that the aim of education is to nurture and grow the community through the development and exchange of knowledge. Aboriginal elders want the next generation to participate in Higher Education not only to be the next crop of teachers, doctors and community leaders across the broader Australian landscape, but also so they can share and exchange that knowledge with their traditional communities. The part that universities can play in this exchange is through pro-active engagement and outreach with Aboriginal communities, in a partnership of equals.
Professor Morgan spoke too of compassion, and how he feels that contemporary society’s, and even the government’s, obsession and dependence on agendas focused on economic growth and big business has seen a depletion of basic human traits such as compassion and openness. As a “prisoner of hope”, he hopes that the academy can have a hand in restoring community spirit and compassion, so we can effectively cultivate this beautiful country for many more generations to come.
Professor Morgan expressed to those who are engaged and committed to these principles and strategies, such as the Reconciliation Action Plan and the Indigenous Strategy, that it’s not enough to say you’re committed, you need to live with a conviction to uphold compassion and community exchange – to partner as equals. Nothing more – nothing less. And sometimes it just takes one person to make a difference. In Canada, through the impetus of one man, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations entered into a federation agreement with the University of Regina, to establish the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College, later renamed the First Nations University of Canada.
Current student Jesse Slok, a Gamilaraay man from Tamworth, NSW, also delivered an address about his educational journey and mentioned how much Walanga Muru has helped and nurtured him to achieve his educational goals. Jessie too is giving back to the community, by founding the Bawurra Foundation, aimed at advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literacy ability and educational progression. The Bawurra Library is a digital library that allows partner schools to access Indigenous stories and knowledge from around Australia, accessed through e-readers donated to the school.
The Patyegarang Oration is a excellent opportunity for us as a community to reflect on this knowledge exchange, to enrich our practices and be a partner in reconciliation.
Walanga Muru encourages staff to get in contact.
Further reading –