Doing something every day to help others

Investing care to ensure a better future for students, refugees and Indigenous Australians has been a tenet of more than 40 years’ work and service by Dr Rosemary Brooks OAM (PhD(Hums) ’79).

Dr Brooks has made it her business to encourage others to excel, and to prevent barriers or obstacles from hindering them – making her an ideal recipient of this year’s Flinders University’s Convocation Medal.

During her 35 years as Principal of St Ann’s College, a university residential college located in North Adelaide, Dr Brooks nurtured more than 3,000 students, mostly from rural regions but also from overseas and across Australia, while they attended Adelaide’s three universities.

While St Ann’s College is a non-profit organisation with no external financial affiliations, Dr Brooks helped the College Foundation raise millions of dollars to benefit students. Through living at the college and being a constant supportive presence in the students’ lives, Dr Brooks established tutoring, mentoring and leadership programs that had a profound impact on forging a generation of Australia’s emerging leaders, scientists, engineers, teachers, nurses, doctors and artists.

Importantly, she supported students at St Ann’s College to excel at their studies, with up to 35% of the 185 students each year winning the St Ann’s Medal for achieving more Distinctions than any other grade, with almost no drop-outs. This stands as a testament to her encouragement and guidance, which was recognised when she was a South Australian winner of the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 1996.

Dr Brooks points back to her studies at Flinders University for providing an important source of inspiration.

“During my studies, I was introduced to the links between art and philosophy, and was impressed by the strong social justice message that has always been significant at Flinders. It aligns with what we believed and practised at St Ann’s – that no barriers of race, colour or creed separate us.”

Dr Brooks is especially proud of a particular legacy at St Ann’s, the appointment of an Indigenous Patron to the college. Kaurna Elder Uncle Dr Lewis Yarlupurka O’Brien AO became the first Indigenous Patron of St Ann’s College at Dr Brooks’ final formal dinner, which coincided with Mabo Day (3 June).

Retiring from her role at St Ann’s and relocating to Melbourne has signalled a new chapter in Dr Brooks’s life. Having graduated in law in 2007, she is committed to pro bono legal work, focusing on human rights, Indigenous people’s legal rights and native title, and has worked pro bono on legal projects in Cambodia and Zanzibar.

She is currently heavily involved in Afghan refugee work with Refugee Legal.

“I try to do something to help others every day,” she explains, “and there is room for more people to offer their help too.”

“Now that I’m no longer a public figure I can be a bit more courageous in what I say. I’m not averse to being an outspoken activist,” she says. She describes her website as a call to action, highlighting six projects she is passionately involved with – refugees and asylum seekers, Aboriginal rights, cultural diversity, biodiversity, environmental protection, and helping disadvantaged young people through supporting St Ann’s College.

“I love it that the website name contains three decisive elements – do it, do it right, do it right now. Individuals can make a difference. Flinders students go into the community with a strong sense of the need to contribute. Hieu Van Le said that the spirit of service is one of Australia’s most precious attributes. It’s our turn to care for future lives.”

Dr Brooks is a Dame of Justice of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, a charity that raises funds for the sick and needy through the Mary Potter Foundation. She was awarded an OAM in 2021 for service to the community and is determined to continue to help.

“There is no greater calling than to provide service to others, so that they can realise their maximum potential,” she says. “Inspired by the Council and Foundation of St Ann’s College, it has been my privilege to serve.”

Dr Rosemary Brooks OAM was awarded a 2021 Convocation Medal for her outstanding commitment to tertiary education, particularly to students in a residential college setting, and in recognition of her significant pro bono legal work and community service. Read more on the Flinders University Alumni Awards

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2021 Alumni Awards 2022 Encounter magazine Alumni Awards College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Higher Degree Research (PhD)

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