Dennis was a Koori man from north-western New South Wales (Gomeroi country), with connections to Gadigal country (inner Sydney). Dennis was a psychologist, academic and poet, and was La Trobe’s inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous).
During his career, Dennis wrote and lectured extensively in the fields of health and Indigenous education. He made lasting contributions to scholarship and practice through his teaching and research on the social determinants of Indigenous health, racism, incarceration, policy, equity, Indigenous social, spiritual and emotional wellbeing, workforce development, and effectiveness of service delivery.
Before coming to La Trobe, Dennis was Director of Flinders University’s Poche Centres for Indigenous Health and Wellbeing in Adelaide and the Northern Territory, and he also served as Associate Head of Faculty for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health at Flinders.
Dennis served on numerous academic and government advisory committees. He was awarded one of the highest accolades that can be bestowed on an Australian university teacher: a National Senior Teaching Fellowship from the Australian Government Office of Learning and Teaching.
Although Dennis only worked at La Trobe for 14 months, he had a huge impact on the University. His call to “decolonise the academy” at La Trobe will resonate for years to come, and we will work hard to continue the work that Dennis began to foster Indigenous knowledge, values and ways in the academy. Dennis wanted to address both the academy’s outward-facing contribution to national discourse, and lead a decolonisation of university processes – and ultimately universities themselves.
Dennis has left La Trobe with a toolkit to identify language and processes imbued with power imbalances and to make change in ways that stop perpetuation of racialised ways of operating. One way we can honour Dennis’ life is to respond to issues including Indigenous health, education and wellbeing in culturally safe and responsive ways.
We will miss Dennis greatly, but will continue with the work that he began to reconfigure curricula and pedagogy to embed Indigenous perspectives and knowledge.
We will support the establishment of an Award in Dennis’ name and welcome donations.
A funeral service for Dennis is being held at 1:15pm on Thursday 9 April. The service will be livestreamed at this link.
Vale Professor Dennis McDermott.