In a ceremony held at the Great Hall on Wednesday, Katie joined the first cohort of MBA students to graduate since the start of the pandemic, wearing a kangaroo skin cloak made by Associate Professor Lynette Riley.
Katie’s message to other young, aspiring Indigenous leaders is twofold: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are some of the most resilient and knowledgeable people,” she said.
“We need to reclaim our place, at the highest level, in the higher education systems in this country. I want young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids to see a pathway to academic success in whatever arenas they aspire to.”
Bundjalung man Boe Rambaldini and Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney was part of the academic procession on the day.
Fellow Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi woman, Associate Professor Lynette Riley, made the cloak Katie wore in 2010 using red kangaroo skin. In the centre of the cloak is a camp with symbols representing the land, with two rivers extending from top to bottom.
“The footprints around the Clan groups and various plants represent Aboriginal people, walking across all the land and showing ongoing connection to Country,” explained Associate Professor Riley.
Associate Professor Riley is a leader in Indigenous education and made a similar cloak for her close friend the Hon. Linda Burney in 2016, which she wore during her maiden speech at Parliament House. “Wearing the cloak signifies the Elders and Ancestors that have walked before us, carrying knowledge and passing it through our generations for over 60,000 years,” Katie said.
“We are fortunate to have esteemed leaders like Lyn and Boe, educating our students, staff and community, continuing to impact future generations. They are an inspiration to me. I hope that my knowledge and experiences can equally influence future generations to take steps to education and positions of leadership.”
The site of the University of Sydney Camperdown campus belongs to the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, but it was known to early settlers as the “kangaroo ground”, according to historians. The Great Hall was built from sandstone sourced from Sydney’s Pyrmont quarries on Gadigal and Wangal Land.
Her mother, father and younger sister were in attendance at the graduation ceremony this week.
“I am extremely grateful that strong women run in my family. They are pillars of inspiration,” Katie said.
“My mum took parental responsibility for her three younger siblings at the age of 12, as my Grandma was working two jobs to keep the family afloat. Higher education was out of reach for both of them as single parents, but they have continuously encouraged me to further my studies and professional opportunities.”
Four years ago, when Katie was working at Indigenous Business Australia and searching for further study options, she came across the UN Women Australia MBA scholarship online.
The scholarship was founded in 2014 when the University of Sydney Business School and UN Women Australia joined forces in a shared effort to promote gender equality and further women’s education.
Having clever and engaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, like Katie, in my class is a joy.
Katie is the first Indigenous woman to have been awarded the scholarship and hopes to see more Indigenous women follow in her footsteps.
“I am passionate about the power of business to drive social change. Australia’s First People are the most resilient culture in the world and are still greatly under-valued and under-represented,” Katie said.
“As an Indigenous woman, I find myself comparing the gender equity conversations to current Indigenous advancement strategies and know the challenges for Indigenous Australians are greater, especially for Indigenous women. However, I am committed to representing that change, so that others can see possibility and walk across the stage of the Great Hall at the University of Sydney.”
Professor Rae Cooper from the University’s Business School added: “Having clever and engaged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, like Katie, in my class is a joy. I think I learn as much from them as they learn from me and I feel very lucky to have access to this wisdom.”
Katie is passionate about social justice and equality, she hopes to build on the skills learnt during her MBA to commence a PhD pathway to engage in collaborative research that will improve the lives of all Australians, but especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.