You may have heard about the Bangarra Dance Theatre and Bennelong Point, but what about Lake Northam, Bidura, Royleston and Murawina? A new subject run by the Centre for the Advancement of Indigenous Knowledges (CAIK) is giving all undergraduate students the opportunity to better engage with and understand Indigenous culture.
Hurrying through the Tower foyer on the way to your next meeting or lecture you might just miss it. But there, opposite the concierge desk, hanging proudly, is Portrait of Aunty Joan Tranter, a 2013 painting of UTS’s inaugural Elder-in-residence.
It’s this kind of easily-missed engagement with contemporary Indigenous culture that CAIK Professor Susan Page wants students to take notice of in the new undergraduate subject, Aboriginal Sydney Now.
CAIK, which was established in 2015, focuses on the implementation of UTS’s Indigenous Graduate Attributes. The strategy aims to ensure all graduates understand and engage with Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing in their chosen discipline. Aboriginal Sydney Now, offered to undergraduate students in all faculties as an online subject, is the first step to achieving these outcomes.
The subject, says Page, “is designed to be an introduction to Indigenous studies and we’re hoping that ultimately, a significant number of undergraduate students will take it in their first year.”
It was launched in Spring session 2016, and has, so far, been very well received, thanks in part to the unique and authentic assessments and activities.
“The very first thing we did was to get students to look for something Aboriginal on campus,” explains Page. “Students found all sorts of things like flags, publications, and of course artworks like the portrait of Aunty Joan.”
Throughout the subject, students are encouraged to undertake walks around Sydney to find significant Aboriginal sites. They include Murawina childcare centre on Eveleigh Street, Redfern, the historic Bidura and Royleston children’s homes in Glebe and the remnants of Lake Northam in Victoria Park, Glebe.
They’re guided by the City of Sydney’s Barani/Barrabugu (Yesterday/Tomorrow) booklet which splits significant sites into four separate journeys. They also watch select episodes of the TV series Redfern Now which is used in the online lectures and discussions, led by CAIK Research Assistant and Tutor Alison Whittaker, to structure and frame elements of learning.
“My journey with this subject has really highlighted the intricacies and difficulties that threaten Aboriginal culture.”
Page explains these activities all “have some emphasis on contemporary Indigenous Australia. That’s not to say that we forget about the past, and there are certainly parts of the subject that are about the past, but to remind students that there are Aboriginal people here now, and that even if we’re in the city, we are on country.”
Bachelor of Laws graduate Laura Qiu says, “My journey with this subject has really highlighted the intricacies and difficulties that threaten Aboriginal culture. It has been really eye-opening to learn about Aboriginal culture in far more depth than what I’ve previously experienced.”
The final assessment for Aboriginal Sydney Now requires students to create an e-portfolio mapping their home community, wherever that may be, and the Indigenous sites in that area.
“Students first had to figure out whose country they were on, then they looked at language groups, they investigated council records, they sought out organisations,” says Page.
Bachelor of Biomedical Science student and Wiradjuri man Rene Oslizlok explored the Aboriginal communities along the Georges River (Dharawal country). “I enjoyed researching my old stomping ground near Salt Pan Creek,” Oslizlok says. “And finding out more about the people that strode upon it.”
Says Qiu, who mapped the Leichhardt Council area (Gadigal and Wangal country), “We could all be doing more to promote Aboriginal culture and educate people on the issues facing Aboriginal people in Australia.”
In the future, UTS students will have a number of touch points throughout their degree that will help them engage with Aboriginal perspectives and histories.
“This subject really is about knowledge and knowing,” says Page. “We hope that other subjects will help connect the dots between what we look at and how that matches up with their disciplines.”
“Ultimately,” concludes Page, “we want students to question, ‘How will I, as an Indigenous or non-Indigenous person, and as a professional, engage with the Indigenous community?’”