Our people doing great things

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Some of our earliest Aboriginal teachers are now highly respected leaders in the community.

Name: To Sir (and Ma’am), with Love

Teachers play a vitally important role in our community. Without teachers we would never know the joy of reading and writing, or the beauty and value of our culture.

Some of the very first Aboriginal teachers have blazed a trail for future generations to give the gift of education to our children, and these same teachers have gone on to play essential roles in the advancement of Aboriginal Australia.

Linda Burney was the first Aboriginal person to gain a Diploma of Teaching at Mitchell College of Advanced Education, which is now the Bathurst campus of Charles Sturt University in NSW.

After she began teaching in 1979, she became involved in the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group before going on to work with the Aboriginal Education Unit of NSW Department of Education on the NSW Aboriginal Education Policy, which was the first such policy in Australia.

Over the years Linda has been heavily involved in ATSIC, Aboriginal health, education and reconciliation in many capacities and with many different organisations. In 2000 Linda became the Director General of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs and then, in 2003, became the first Aboriginal person elected to parliament.

Linda is a powerful public speaker and one of the most respected members of the Aboriginal community.

Another expert in Aboriginal education and training is Professor John Lester. John was the first Aboriginal teacher at Redfern Primary School, Moree High School and Darlington Primary School and has over 20 years of experience in Aboriginal education.

In 1983 John became the first Aboriginal head of the Aboriginal Education Unit at NSW TAFE, and in 1986 he was appointed the first Aboriginal Principal of TAFE at the Griffith College. He then went on to become Principal at Grafton TAFE College, before acting as assistant director at the Coffs Harbour Education Campus.

John graduated with a Master of Education Administration from Newcastle University, before becoming the inaugural Chair of Aboriginal Studies at the same university. He is currently the Professor of Aboriginal Studies and the Director of Umulliko Indigenous Higher Education Centre at Newcastle University.

Last month John was named the first Indigenous director of Aboriginal education and training for the NSW Department of Education.

You may have heard of David Unaipon, the writer, poet and inventor who now features on the $50 note. But did you know that his father James was the first Aboriginal teacher in South Australia?

James (or Ngunaitponi) was a Ngarrindjeri man who taught himself to read and write English when he was a young man, and became a teacher and a lay preacher at the Point McLeay Mission during the 1890s. During this time, Point McLeay was the only place in Australia where Aboriginal people appeared on the electoral role, and voted in the election of delegates to attend the 1897 Federal Constitutional Convention and the Federation referenda of 1898 and 1899.

James also co-authored an anthropological work entitled The Narrinyeri, which recorded the cultural and linguistic heritage of his people.

In 1996 the University of South Australia named the Unaipon School, a part of the Indigenous College of Education and Research, in honour of James and David.

One of our greatest role models, Pat O’Shane was Queensland’s first female Aboriginal teacher. She was also the first Australian Aboriginal law graduate, the first Aboriginal barrister and the first Aboriginal and the first woman to head a government department – the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1986 she also became Australia’s first Aboriginal magistrate. Now that’s a lot of firsts!

Pat has long been involved in the fight for the rights of Aboriginal Australians, and has gained quite a reputation as a tough and outspoken advocate for Indigenous people and women. She’s worked for Aboriginal legal services in Sydney and the Northern Territory, was the coordinator of a task force of the New South Wales Parliamentary Select Committee on Aborigines and a Senior Policy Adviser with the Office of the Status of Women. Pat was also responsible for improving the State’s land rights legislation and the establishment of the New South Wales system of land councils.

At times controversial, Pat has never ceased in her fight to improve the health, education and housing outcomes of our people.

These are just a few of the many great Aboriginal teachers that have made a real difference to the lives of Indigenous Australians. If you think that your teacher is special, why not write to us and tell us? You might see them featured in the next issue of Deadly Vibe.

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