From qualifying as a primary school teacher, to acting in the theatre, to a university career where she last year rose to the position of Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous – it’s been an unconventional, rich and affirming journey for Associate Professor Simone Ulalka Tur.
In your role as Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous), what are you finding to be the most significant or biggest area of responsibility?
I received my grounding in the role when I shared the PVC (Indigenous) position on an interim basis with Dr Ali Gumilya Baker in 2019, while recruitment took place. Since taking on the full role in 2020 it’s been incredibly busy – and incredibly rewarding. My main focus is on supporting Flinders to prioritise Indigenous governance more broadly.
Core to this has been the development of the Indigenous governance structures within the University, through to the development of our first ever Reconciliation Action Plan – our RAP, which this week celebrates its first anniversary – and which has been pivotal in how the uni engages with Indigenous knowledges, perspectives, teaching and learning and community.
The RAP will require a strong and focused process to implement. I am taking to heart the theme of this year’s Reconciliation week “More than a word, Reconciliation takes action” because that is exactly what’s needed for our RAP to genuinely transform our campus.
In particular, senior staff and others will have new responsibilities to support the Plan – and I’ll be working closely with them to further develop the RAP as together we work towards the deliverables. As PVC (Indigenous) I have a critical role to play supporting the RAP engagement to conceptualise programs.
Another key part of my role is connecting with Indigenous communities in SA and NT and really thinking about how the University will work in partnership to support community priorities through higher education. The involvement of communities is a fundamental part of the governance structure for the RAP. The University has an Indigenous Advisory Council as a broader stakeholder structure to provide strategic advice and community voice to the university and a very specific RAP oversight committee, and Tarrkarri-ana committee an internal group which provides advice to the University in relation to the policies and programs that ensure Indigenous student success. Tarrkarri-ana is the Kaurna word for Towards the Future.
What it all comes down to is building relationships internally and externally and engaging in conversations about advancing Indigenous engagement through education, and this can inform further approaches and strategies, the way we engage in research, meeting the needs and aspirations of the community, centre
Indigenous perspectives within learning, and how we engage ethically as a university – all connect to how we develop the strategies towards Indigenous engagement.
Do you much involvement with the broader community, or plan to have more engagement with the community?
Absolutely! I’m determined to build on existing and established relationships within the University, and one of the aspects I’m most confident will be amongst the most transformative is the appointment of Elders on campus. We now have three Senior Elders on campus – Uncle Richard Balang Japaljarri of the Larrakia Nation in Darwin, Arrernte Elder Aunty Pat Miller in Alice Springs, and respected Kaurna Elder Uncle Lewis O’Brien at Flinders Bedford Park. They are proving to have a critical role in the governance structures and guiding our path forward.
The RAP consultation was truly inclusive – delegations travelled to Darwin and Alice Springs to meet with Traditional Owners. Something we know is really important is the inclusion of language in helping to connect and include communities and I’m delighted we have seen language incorporated into out RAP and look forward to more language being embraced in our documents and across our campuses in the future.
Can you briefly describe the work journey that took you to this point in your career? has your initial career goal changed?
I was the Director of Yunggorendi First Nations Centre for four years, involved in supporting Indigenous students, teaching research and broader engagement in relation to university governance structures – so the transition to PVC (Indigenous) is a logical step. For me the main difference in this new role is the very broad engagement which requires an outward looking face or perspective.
But perhaps even earlier than that was the influence of art – and I still see my arts as integral to the way I implement strategies. An example of that is Unbound Collective – and I hope to maintain that research as part of this role.
I trained as a primary teacher and undertook drama as part of that, then worked with the wonderful Magpie Theatre in the early 1990s where I landed my first professional role – funerals and circuses in 90s. Acting has been my passion and creative work, that’s where it first started. I use creative arts, song, and performance as a way of teaching complex ideas about Indigenous histories and knowledges.
The Unbound Collective came out of the fact that Dr Ali Baker, Dr Natalie Harkin, Faye Rosas Blanch and I were undertaking PhDs while working in the University. We connected academically, creatively and most importantly as Aboriginal women and decided collectively we can support each other. Even today it informs how I do this role. The new Indigenous and Australian studies major is likewise grounded in a creative arts pedagogy within HASS.
Can you describe a challenge in your life and how you dealt with it?
I’ve taught about race as a social construct and representation of Aboriginal people for more than 20 years – the challenge is the emotional labour that comes with that, within Australia and the broader international context, and maintaining wellbeing as part of that process. That is where collective support is so incredibly important.
The key to that challenge is a combination of society not knowing Australia’s Indigenous history, not being introduced to ideas of race and what it means in terms of colonialism; the challenge is for there to be an understanding that the reason Australia is here is because of dispossession of Australian people. Creative arts helps – such as song, poetry and visual arts encourage people to think through how ideas of race have had impacts and what it means in the contemporary concept.
What is something you are most proud of?
Being a mother – my son is now school age; being an Aboriginal person; being strong in community and committed to the rights and justice; being proud of our long-held knowledges that we contribute. I’m incredibly proud that increasingly there is recognition of our long-held philosophies. I think our communities can contribute to sustainable futures.
How do you like to relax or spend your spare time?
Watching a really good movie. Spending time with my son and my family, walking the dog and gardening. Developing creative work is very enjoyable – that’s when I am most inspired and satisfied
You have been at Flinders University for several years. Have you seen many changes in our approach to Indigenous nation building or advancement over this time?
It’s incredible to think I have been at Flinders since 1998 – that’s 22, nearly 23 years! My observation is there is goodwill and commitment, from senior leadership, staff and students to progress reconciliation through action leading to transformation. Reconciliation is an ongoing process of recognition and actions. Celebrating our successes and be open to the challenges ahead. Our Reconciliation Action Plan is a turning point for Flinders and it’s now up to us all, together, to truly live its ambitions and to achieve its goals.
Simone Ulalka Tur is the from the Yankunytjatjara community, north-west South Australia and has resided in Adelaide on Kaurna Yarta, South Australia