We’ve come a fair way, but there’s still a way to go to reconciliation, according to Dr Julie Andrews from La Trobe University.
You started your academic career around 10 years ago when you became the first full-time Indigenous lecturer at your university. What did that mean to you at the time, and what does it mean to you now?
Throughout most of my education, I found myself being the only or one of a few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students so I’ve had to listen to many non-Aboriginal viewpoints on my people.
At home it was the complete opposite. I grew up attending family and community events that created a sense of belonging and identity. We were proud to make a difference for our people and to make a contribution for our community’s future. This was what our Elders worked towards as I grew up—to make a better future for our community and to keep the community together.
When I reflect upon what I’ve achieved since moving into academia, I find that I’ve become a role model for my family, my community and for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous students that I’ve taught.
What subjects do you teach, and what drew you to those subjects in particular?
I teach Aboriginal Studies as it relates to my discipline area of study—I have a degree in Aboriginal Studies and I majored in Sociology and Archaeology. I then completed an Anthropology Honours degree in Aboriginal hip hop and identity.
When I first started teaching Aboriginal Studies I would ask—and still do—how many people have actually met an Aboriginal person before meeting me. Maybe about 15% put their hands up.
This told me that students would be graduating in careers that could place them working first hand with Aboriginal people, families, trauma, incarceration, social welfare, education and drug and alcohol areas. I felt it was my duty to produce graduates that understood the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individual, community and the discrimination my people experience because of stereotypes that exist for many of my people.
Indigenous Australians are always teaching others to understand their history and the world they live in. So I followed their path to ensure students know how Aboriginal history and culture shapes identity, families and communities today.
One of the subjects you teach is located ‘On Country’—can you tell us a bit about what that means, and what its significance is?
‘On Country’ has a few meanings, depending on the context. It is identifying that the activity is related to Aboriginal lands, that the traditional custodial practices are at the forefront of the activity.
It enables the student to apply the academic learning alongside Aboriginal teaching. It’s taught by Aboriginal Elders and members of the Aboriginal community in Shepparton, Victoria. The students have the opportunity to be taught by Indigenous people and engage with their knowledge. The bush becomes the classroom, students can talk to Elders, visit heritage sites, engage with issues of racism, policy, sport, education etc.
What, in your view, have been the pivotal moments or cultural shifts in getting us closer to reconciliation?
Reconciliation was a movement giving people the chance to contribute to addressing the past of early settler relations and government policies aimed at Aboriginal people across Australia.
We saw The Stolen Generations become a human rights issue for this country; we saw ‘Sorry Day’ as a result of this awareness. We saw Australians become aware of policies that placed Aboriginal people at least four generations behind the rest of Australia.
Currently there are large issues that are being discussed around Australia that will set the course for the future of relations between Aboriginal people and the government—the Uluru Statement and Treaty. The Victorian Government has made considerable negotiations with Victorian Aboriginal people on the matter of Treaty by legislating processes that will open negotiations and agreements between Victorian Aboriginal people and the government. This is a good model for other state and territory governments to explore. However, there is unfinished business to be addressed – the Uluru Statement.
These issues are studied by students and their contributions will no doubt keep Indigenous issues alive. I really admire the cultural change in the younger generations who are not afraid to tackle these issues.
What changes would you still like to see?
I would like to see less stress on Aboriginal people in their daily lives. I would like to see more Indigenous people educated. There are so many Indigenous medical doctors, surgeons, lawyers, sportspeople, nurses, researchers, academics, managers, engineers, entrepreneurs, the list goes on. I want to see this increase and every Indigenous family have at least three people with a university qualification. I want our role models to continue increasing—this would make a difference for economic independence for families.
What kinds of changes would you like to see to improve the financial literacy of indigenous Australians?
Indigenous business is now beginning to take shape across the country. I support development where Indigenous people do not have to rely on government welfare and can direct and manage their finances for the better. But for this to happen high unemployment, incarceration, poor health and better education outcomes need to be addressed to make such change.