'Life changing' Aboriginal studies

An award-winning La Trobe University Aboriginal history and culture course called Encountering Aboriginal Victoria starts next week in the north of the State.

La Trobe academics and local Yorta Yorta and Bangarang Aboriginal Elders will teach the course both on the University’s Shepparton campus and on Aboriginal country including the historic Cummerganja Mission and Barmah Forest.

The course has been designed to not only advance the knowledge of students from La Trobe and other universities, but to also build an educational bridge to the region’s Aboriginal community for people who have not previously considered tertiary study.

Local participation, says course co-ordinator and La Trobe lecturer in Aboriginal Studies and Anthropology Julie Andrews, aims to build the capacity of Indigenous communities by exposing them to a greater knowledge of their own history.

‘The course is about developing greater pride in their culture, heritage and traditions, reaching out to the next generation from an academic setting, and encouraging links between Aboriginal community groups, businesses and the University.’

The program, for which La Trobe has also won the Aboriginal education achievement ‘Wurreker Award’, brings students and Aboriginal groups together. ‘It speaks with an authenticity that students have found compelling and life changing,’ says Ms Andrews.

A Yorta Yorta woman who is completing a PhD at La Trobe, Ms Andrews says Shepparton, with around 1,800 Indigenous Australians, has one of the highest Aboriginal populations in Victoria, almost six times the Victorian average.

It is also an area of socio-economic disadvantage with high unemployment and a university participation rate well below the national average.

‘The close involvement of community Elders with La Trobe students is a good way to help build a regional platform for a better understanding of the value of higher education,’ says Ms Andrews.

About 50 students from La Trobe’s Melbourne and regional campuses will arrive in Shepparton on Sunday 13th January to meet some of the Aboriginal Elders who will act as their teachers for the week.

The course runs in two parts, from 13 to 15 January 2013 on the La Trobe Shepparton campus.

It will include a special screening of the film ‘The Sapphires’ about four local Koori women singers who toured Vietnam during the war in the late 1960s. Students will be able to discuss the film via video link with its writer, well-known actor Tony Briggs.

Topics range from native title, archaeology and anthropology to social justice and climate change.

Senior La Trobe staff including Dr John Morton and Dr David Frankel and former Koori Court Magistrate Professor Kate Auty, now Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability, will conduct these sessions.

From 16 to 18 January 2013 the ‘On Country’ component will include lectures at archaeological sites with Parks Victoria Aboriginal Ranger Ray Ahmat as well as lessons about oral history, life stories, language and totems taught by Elders and other community members at the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve .

Ms Andrews says the local Aboriginal community has one of the richest political histories in south-east Australia. Their connection with the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve and subsequent history has been widely documented in literature, autobiographies and film.

'Aboriginal knowledge,' says Ms Andrews, 'is different from academic knowledge. It's a family group and community way of learning, and is directly related to one's own country and to personal requirements of knowledge. Hence it is best taught in wider setting than just a class room.'

Ms Andrews, who has been recognised by the Australian Government for her teaching contribution to the ‘Closing the Gap’ campaign, has helped establish many of La Trobe University’s Aboriginal higher education initiatives.

More information:

Julie Andrews on Tel: 0439 585 433 or

Michael Chisholm, Indigenous Student Officer, Tel: 03 5820 8629 / 0488 928 111

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