Flinders graduate Associate Professor Simone Ulalka Tur’s background in arts research and Indigenous education underpins her transformative role as Flinders University’s inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous).
In February 2020, Associate Professor Simone Ulalka Tur (MEdSt ’02, PhD(EHLT) ’18), from the Yankunytjatjara community in north-west South Australia, was appointed to the new role, following six months acting in the position, shared with colleague Dr Ali Gumillya Baker (MA(EHLT) (Cwk) ’02, PhD(EHLT) ’18), from the Mirning community.
Responsible for enhancing respect for Indigenous knowledges and advancing Indigenous outcomes across education, research, employment and wellbeing, she also guides the Yunggorendi Student Engagement – a Flinders University hub that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to succeed.
Key priorities this year include overseeing new Indigenous governance structures at Flinders and the implementation of an enormous project – the University’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
May 2020 saw the finalisation of the RAP – the result of an extensive consultation phase during 2019 that was enthusiastically embraced by staff, students and alumni across South Australia and the Northern Territory.
It contains an extensive set of goals and deliverables to foster deeper engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and staff, but Associate Professor Tur says that’s only the beginning.
‘The plan will need a strong and focused process to be implemented, and will build on the commitment and momentum of students and staff throughout its development. This will require a collective effort, as many employees will have new responsibilities to deliver the outcomes,’ she says.
The University’s aspirations for Indigenous advancement extend well beyond its campuses, and Associate Professor Tur says strengthening external connections is essential for a community oriented approach.
‘It was important to include perspectives and knowledges of the broader Indigenous community,’ she says.
As part of the RAP consultation, Associate Professor Tur visited Arrernte traditional owners around Alice Springs with Dr Baker, senior lecturer and convenor of the Indigenous Studies and Australian Studies majors at Flinders University, and Dr Maree Meredith (PhD(HlthSc) ’18), Acting Director of the University’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health.
‘It’s about building relationships, engaging in conversations about advancing Indigenous opportunities through education.’
This extends to the exciting new initiative of employing Elders on campus.
‘Through the leadership of The Poche Centre for Indigenous Health and Flinders College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders Northern Territory recently appointed two new Elders on Campus, Mr Richard Fejo and Dr Pat Miller AO. We also plan to have an Elder on Campus at Bedford Park this year,’ says Associate Professor Tur.
The Elders will contribute to the new Indigenous governance structures and help shape fresh initiatives, while enhancing Indigenous perspectives, staff recruitment and student support.
‘This rich community involvement is key to supporting our Indigenous engagement across all areas, and can inform further approaches on how we engage in research, meet the needs of communities and engage ethically as a university,’ says Associate Professor Tur.
‘It highlighted the significance of Indigenous languages, a view which also came across strongly in internal discussions.’
Completing her PhD at Flinders, Associate Professor Tur has been a member of staff since 1998, including Director of Yunggorendi for four years.
‘The biggest change for me with this new role is the broader engagement, which requires an outward-looking perspective.’
To achieve this, she is drawing on her arts knowledge and using performance to convey complex ideas and Indigenous views. As part of a collective of four female Aboriginal academics in The Unbound Collective, Associate Professor Tur creatively enacts critical responses to colonial archives. The sought-after group has performed nationally, including the launch of The National 2019: New Australian Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
‘It will no doubt be a challenge, but I think it’s important to maintain my research and arts practice as part of this role,’ she says.
‘I see creative arts and creative thinking as integral to implementing strategies that relate to Indigenous advancement.’
Flinders University’s Innovate RAP
The Reconciliation Action Plan aims to enhance respect for Indigenous knowledges and advance Indigenous outcomes across education, research, employment and wellbeing at Flinders University. flinders.edu.au/RAP