29 June 2022
In the lead up to NAIDOC Week, SEI Deputy Director Rosanne Quinnell reflects upon her work with the Sydney Indigenous Research Network and the incredible generosity of Indigenous leadership.

By Associate Professor Rosanne Quinnell

Late June, 2022. It is Burrugin in the D’harawal calendar. Jaky Troy and her community, including Elders, must have been singing the Ngarigu snow song again as there is a chill in the air. It was Mabo Day a few weeks ago. This year marked 30 years from the historic ruling that this vast continent was actually possessores terram (apologies to lawyers and Latin scholars) rather than terra nullius, a decision that led to the Native Title Act 1993

At the University of Sydney Mabo Day event, the keynote address was given by Kaiya Aboagye. It was simply outstanding, with Kaiya describing Mabo’s legacy as cultural medicine. I encourage everyone to listen and re-listen to Kaiya’s talk focusing on justice and the connecting principles of kinship, country, belonging and reciprocity. I followed up the Mabo Day event by reading Kaiya’s paper on “Australian Blackness, the African Diaspora and Afro/Indigenous Connections in the Global South“, which left me thinking that I have so much left to learn about the Black history of this continent. 

The Mabo Day events made for a wonderful introduction to the upcoming NAIDOC Week on 3-10 July. NAIDOC Week this year calls for all of us to “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!”. Specifically this call focuses on ‘truth telling’, a call aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Aboriginal Australians alike. Of course, ‘truth telling’ is challenging for a number of reasons, not the least because we have been immersed in a ‘post-truth’ performative-driven politico-corporate culture for far too long: a value-vacuum. I admit that I struggle to focus on what ‘truth’ is, let alone what ‘my truth’ is. I will need to more time to think about this.  

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders offer leadership by sharing their ways of knowing, being and doing. Each instance of sharing an extraordinarily generous gift, which extends to our practices as scholars by guiding the adoption of more respectful, inclusive practices with our research. Irrespective of whether our research is classified as ‘Indigenous’, the adoption of Indigenous research practices is of ethical value.  

Each instance of sharing an extraordinarily generous gift, which extends to our practices as scholars by guiding the adoption of more respectful, inclusive practices with our research. Irrespective of whether our research is classified as ‘Indigenous’, the adoption of Indigenous research practices is of ethical value.

At this juncture I could do a bit of virtue signalling and fill some space by offering evidence in my scholarship where the adoption of an Indigenous research lens has benefited my work. I’m not sure that would be particularly useful. I think the point in general, and at this institution in particular, is to make spaces culturally safer, more welcoming, and allow for greater diversity of thought. I recall being at an Indigenous Science Symposium some years ago, and a young Aboriginal woman offered the following impactful statement (a gift): “If you make the space safe for me, you make it safe for everyone.”. With this statement in mind, I was interested to read that Universities Australia (UA) Indigenous Strategy 2022-2025 is focused on amplifying and adopting Indigenous value systems and addressing personal, institutional and systemic racism, while noting the damning statistic from the NTEU that 75% of Indigenous staff employed in Higher Education in this country have experienced racism. Shocking to some, maybe not shocking to others. 

Regardless, Aboriginal brothers and sisters continue in their attempts to teach us their value systems. In return we seem to expect the Traditional Owners across this land to be responsive to requests to sate curiosity, personal curiosity and potentially exploitative curiosity, and to give their vast First Nations knowledges freely (e.g., medicinal knowledge, land management practices, potential food crops). It is time to move on from these kinds of extractivist approaches. There is no doubt that my scholarship has been improved through conversations with my Aboriginal colleagues, including the ways in which we have these conversations. And, thank goodness for Terri Janke’s book, True Tracks: Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture, and the Kinship module developed by Associate Professor Lynette Riley et al. A defining moment in Australian politics was Lynette Riley singing Linda Burney into parliament

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is several gifts in one. The process of generating this statement is the first gift. It is a political marvel. I cannot imagine any other continents occupied by on multiple nations being able to craft a document like this. The content of the statement is the second gift. Each word placed carefully – Strong Powerful True – offering an inspirational poem to guide this country to constitutional reform via Voice. Treaty. Truth. Such is the level of inclusion and cooperation, the Uluru Statement from the Heart has been translated into around 90 languages including local First Nations languages, international languages and Auslan, noting that there are high rates of hearing loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. 

To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, including the non-human like my beloved plants, I offer my deepest gratitude for providing much-needed direction as together, we get up, stand up and show up. 

*The time from late June to early July in the D’harawal calendar.  

Associate Professor Rosanne Quinnell is Deputy Director (Education) in SEI and a scientist and educator in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Sydney. She has taught botany for close to 25 years and is deeply committed to improving student engagement in science, particularly engagement with the botanical world by improving the botanical literacy within and outside of the classroom. Rosanne is redeveloping CampusFlora in collaborating with DVC ISS, ICT and NGNY with the re-release due before the end of 2022. Rosanne co-designed the Curriculum Garden in partnership the University Grounds staff and the Sustainability Strategy (planted 2021). Rosanne is leading the Living Laboratory in partnership with the University’s Sustainability Strategy, and she is an active member of the Sydney Indigenous Research Network.

Header image: blossoming of mimosa tree (Acacia pycnantha, golden wattle) by Olly Plu via Shutterstock ID: 1498293725.

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