'People Like Us' challenge our preconceptions in new University of Sydney exhibition

27 May 2013

A mother passionate about education for Aboriginal young people and her son who followed in her footsteps to university will join forces with a lawyer changing the rural community in which she grew up and a professional footballer who juggles training sessions with study sessions to open Australians' eyes about what it's like to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person today.

Fourteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, staff and alumni at the University of Sydney are part of People Like Us, a powerful video exhibition that challenges visitors to hear their thoughts, dreams and hopes for the role of higher education in the futures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The free, public exhibition, part of the University of Sydney's Reconciliation Week program of public events, will take place in a shipping container installed on the University's Eastern Avenue.

The container will take on a life of its own throughout the exhibition, with local and established Aboriginal artists painting its exterior throughout Reconciliation Week.

"This is a really powerful set of videos that demonstrates the potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people engaged in study and work at universities, and the difference university study can make in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people," says Professor Shane Houston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services).

"People Like Us is particularly powerful because it's not framed by the discourse of disadvantage that is so often seen in this area, but by real changes to opportunity, capability and rights in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people."

For Kim Whitely, a Wiradjuri woman from Wellington in Central NSW who is profiled in the exhibition, equality in education and the desire to lead by example are the driving passions behind her pursuit of tertiary study.

"I was born in a time when Indigenous people weren't counted as citizens. We were flora and fauna," Kim says.

"I'm really passionate about improving outcomes for Indigenous kids because they're unequal, and if I can in some way have a hand in allowing Indigenous kids to achieve equality in educational outcomes I'll be really happy."

For her eldest son Mitch, who started a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Sydney this year, his mother's education has been inspirational.

"I'm most excited about starting a new chapter, being a little fish in a big pond again and being the first in the family to finish at boarding school, which is a pretty good achievement. I know everyone at home is proud of me and I'm proud of myself," he says.

Bachelor of Science student Jared Field, a Kamilaroi man, is enjoying the opportunity for reflection that university life provides.

"I would encourage other Indigenous people to come and study at Sydney Uni, but insofar as I would encourage anyone to come here and study. How often do you spend three years dedicating your life to just thinking?"

The 14 short videos will play on multiple screens and headsets in the shipping container. An interactive computer display of the University's extensive collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts will also feature in the exhibition.

When it draws to a close at the University, organisers hope to spread the message by touring the exhibition around communities and schools in Sydney and regional areas.

Meet more of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on our special website.

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Media enquiries: Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809,