Our non-Indigenous allies: the story continues with an amazing woman in STEM

19 November 2018
By Shannon Foster, D’harawal Saltwater Knowledge Keeper
Celebrating biology alumnus and high school science teacher Dr Libby Sakker
Dr Libby Sakker

Dr Libby Sakker on a Kimberley Cruise with Len Zell at Montgomery Reef, WA.

Some of our readers may be familiar with my previous story for Science Alliance about my high school biology teacher Ms Sakker, who received her Bachelor of Science and PhD in Biology from the University of Sydney. She was the one and only teacher throughout my entire education who saw me and honoured my Aboriginality.

What I didn’t mention was that I had looked for Ms Sakker for years.  I wanted to find her and let her know what she had done for me and so many other girls at that high school in Bankstown. I wanted her to know that she had lit a fire in my heart, not just for science and the natural world, but also for teaching and really, just for knowing myself and being proud of who I am.

As it turned out, that story was read by a friend of Ms Sakker who passed it on to her. Ms Sakker was trying to find a way to get in touch with me when she attended a talk at the Australian Museum and I was mentioned by one of the speakers.  After the talk, Ms Sakker made a beeline for the speaker, a good friend of mine, who passed on my details and twenty eight years after I last saw her, Ms Sakker got in touch.

We met up just days before her eighty first birthday and I realised very quickly that Ms Sakker, I must now call her Libby, truly is a wonderful woman and I hadn’t been idealising her at all. In fact, she is even more wonderful than I ever knew and is still a shining light for women in STEM.

Libby is living an amazing life. Although she is retired, she is still dedicated to science and immerses herself in programs and initiatives that pay back to her science community. Since we last met, Libby has fought hard for women in STEM and she is now a volunteer at the Australian Museum, the Kosciusko Hawk Weeds program and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. Her energy seems boundless and is clearly fuelled by a love for science.

By far though, I am most fascinated by her work with Track Care. Every year, Libby drives by herself for five days across the Nullarbor Plain to join groups of volunteers working on the Canning Stock Route to build toilets, showers and tanks, or repair wells with Aboriginal communities. Libby tells captivating stories of sleeping under the stars and connecting with mob in some of Australia’s most remote areas. I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess, to know that Libby is still a fierce and dedicated ally to Aboriginal people.

Wondering if her experiences with science were similar to mine, I asked Libby what drove her to the world of science and, of course, she tells me that she had had a great high school teacher, Mrs Clarke who made everything seem possible. At a time when physics was not taught in girl’s high schools, Mrs Clarke showed Libby the way and the rest is history.

When asked what advice Libby has for women thinking of entering the world of STEM her words are clear and true, reflecting every bit the wonderful woman that she is: “Keep exploring, keep listening, looking and learning and go for it!”

I’m now looking forward to many more wonderful catch ups and adventures with Libby. When I think of Libby, I think of my favourite wish from our D’harawal Welcome Wishes – “Ngeeyinee bulima nandiritah” – may you always see the beauty of the earth.