Recognising the importance of advancing reconciliation was a theme embraced by Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling during his extensive round of engagements in the Northern Territory during the past week.
Together with senior University staff, Professor Stirling attended a range of functions that underlined the value of Flinders University’s close connections with NT communities, especially in producing graduates who are making a difference to local communities.
Central to the week’s activities was acknowledging the one-year anniversary of Flinders University’s RAP. At an event in Darwin that featured senior University staff including the Chancellor Stephen Gerlach AM, Professor Jonathan Craig and Associate Professor Simone Tur, Professor Stirling welcomed a range of staff, local dignitaries and community members as he acknowledged the work being undertaken in the NT to progress Indigenous engagement and reconciliation.
Uncle Richie ‘Balang/Japaljarri’ Fejo, a Larrakia Elder and Senior Elder on Campus based in Darwin, welcomed the guests to Darwin, and characteristically ensured that everyone felt truly welcome to Country. “There is an old saying that happiness is not a destination but a way of life,” said Uncle Richie. “We need to think about reconciliation in the same way: reconciliation needs to become our way.”
Later in the week, University staff visiting Darwin participated in Pudakul – an Aboriginal cultural educational tour based on local knowledge and experience. The tour, led by a local family of the Adelaide and Mary River region, included a guided walk, clap stick and didgeridoo demonstrations, spear throwing and dilly bag and basket weaving.
The visit of Flinders University chiefs to Darwin was crowned by Poche SA+NT celebrating its 10-year anniversary, with Kay Van Norton Poche present as a special guest of honour. With new approaches and partnerships being put in place, this Aboriginal-led research centre is in a position to lead significant progress in improving Indigenous health in communities across the Northern Territory and South Australia.
“Poche SA+NT is designed to drive local action and to promote national collaborations across a number of university partners, enabling us to work together on issues of priority that are identified by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders,” said Vice-Chancellor Professor Colin Stirling at the Darwin event.
Also at the event, Director of Poche SA+NT Dr Maree Meredith released a new prospectus encapsulating what the centre has to offer, and encouraged event attendees to connect with Poche SA+NT as potential collaborators and partners.
On Thursday evening, a panel discussion at the Trailhead Dinner provided guests with a broad range of perspectives on community-identified priorities, potential solutions, the importance of elders, the impact of youth leaders, developing curriculum in response to community needs, and the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health leaders.
Panellists included Helen Martin (Chair, Aboriginal Tourism NT), Dr Leisa McCarty (Executive Director, Central Australian Academic Health Science Network), Timothy Duggan (lead facilitator for the Australian Leadership Centre NT), Miliwanga Sandy Wurrben (artist, healer and cultural consultant), Stuart McGrath (NT Young Australian of the Year 2021), and Professor Colin Stirling.
The evening’s discussion and subsequent audience questions demonstrated how respectful and considered dialogue has the capacity to inspire, to inform and to advance change.
Last Tuesday night, the Vice-Chancellor and Professor Jonathan Craig hosted a cocktail reception for Flinders alumni in Darwin. The guest list included several fourth-year medical students from Darwin and visiting from Adelaide who are on placement with Dr Phillip Carson, who has been involved with the Northern Territory Medical Program from its inception in 2011 and spent many years committed to teaching and mentoring Flinders students.