Megan Davis standing in front of a painting

The Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous has overall responsibility for ensuring that UNSW delivers on its agenda for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, as well as nurturing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars and showcasing and developing UNSW research across important areas of Indigenous policy. Much of this work is outlined in UNSW's Indigenous Strategy developed by UNSW's first Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, Professor Megan Davis. As PVC Indigenous, Prof Davis leads a team (based at Nura Gili and the Chancellery) across a diverse portfolio covering Indigenous Strategy, Education and Research. 

Professor Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrungam nation in south-west Queensland and one of Australia’s most highly regarded lawyers and scholars specialising in public law (particularly constitutional law) and public international law. The Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous also acts as the director of Nura Gili: Centre for Indigenous Programs

Learn more about Professor Megan Davis

Nura Gili logo

Yes - Nura Gili is UNSW's Centre for Indigenous Programs and is also home to the broader team. Nura Gili is our hub on campus and a place for students and researchers to be able to connect, collaborate and study. Our team provide a range of Indigenous student success services based at the centre, as well as managing our tutoring (ITP) program for enrolled students.

The Nura Gili space is available to all enrolled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Nura Gili also houses our Indigenous Studies programs, academic unit, and has facilities for researchers and Higher Degree Research (HDR)  students. All undergraduate and postgraduate Indigenous students at UNSW are welcome to use the services, programs and facilities at Nura Gili.

Find out more about Nura Gili

UNSW Indigenous Strategy

Launched in 2018, the UNSW Indigenous Strategy represents UNSW's commitment to creating an environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, researchers and staff to thrive. Recognising the importance of Country, community, and culture, the strategy is first of its kind at UNSW.

Led by Professor Megan Davis, Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, the Indigenous Strategy provides an overarching framework for Indigenous education, employment and research. Taking a whol-of-university approach means this strategic vision is implemented across all aspects of the University.
 

Learn more about our Indigenous Strategy

In the 2000s Australia had a formal legislated process of reconciliation. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation adopted a roadmap to reconciliation and many people – including the many members of the UNSW community who participated – remember the historic walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Since then reconciliation has fallen off the agenda. 

In recent years Reconciliation Australia has focused on Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs). RAPs are an important framework but reconciliation requires much more. Unlike other universities, UNSW is not adopting a RAP. UNSW is adopting an Indigenous Strategy, aimed at providing an overarching framework to the already excellent work UNSW does on Indigenous education, teaching and research.

One of the reasons we have not adopted a RAP is to recognise the concern among some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples about the reconciliation process in Australia. To “reconcile” means to restore friendly relations between two parties. Moreover, the twin pillars of reconciliation globally are truth and justice. Many Indigenous people believe that before the Australian nation can “reconcile” with First Peoples there needs to be a national process of truth telling. Of course, “truth” is a contested concept, like “reconciliation”.
 

UNSW Indigenous Strategy: Truth and Justice

 

Kensington campus walkway

The main UNSW campus is located on a 38-hectare site at Kensington, seven kilometres from the centre of Sydney, on Bedgeal land. Other major campuses are the Art & Design campus in the Sydney suburb of Paddington which is on Gadigal land and UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy which is on Ngunnawal land. 

Aboriginal history of UNSW

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), based on the 2016 Census, there are 798,400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia (2016).

Note: the below is guidance on respectful use of language for people who are interested and does not represent any UNSW usage 'rules' or mandates.

The term ‘Indigenous Australians’ is often used to encompass both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples and has become common in various forms of communication. However, not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are comfortable with the term and some do not identify as an "Indigenous Australian". Therefore, it best to use this term if an individual identifies as such, or it is a part of an official title (such as Minister for Indigenous Australians). Moreover, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples do not like to be referred to as "Indigenous" as the term is considered too generic.

When used in Australia, the words Indigenous, Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander are capitalised, as would be the name of any other group of people. It is best not to resort to the acronyms of ATSI or TSI. 

Aboriginal people may refer to themselves as Koori, Murri or Nunga, which is relevant to the greater region they are connected to. Again, it is best used if an individual or group of peoples have identified as such and wish to be referred to in that way.

Aboriginal identities can also directly link to their language groups and traditional Country (a specific geographic location), for example, Gunditjamara people are the Traditional Owners of western Victoria, the Bedegal people of the Eora nation are from Sydney, and the Yawuru people are the traditional custodians of Broome in Western Australia.

Where possible, it is recommended that the Country be used, if it is known and the individual identifies as such. For example, Professor Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman from the Barrgunam nation. It is recommended to ask an individual or group about the specific wording on how best to communicate their cultural and family connections to Country, as it can be diverse even within broad language groups and nations. 

It should be noted, that not all Aboriginal people have knowledge of their traditional Country or language group. This is largely the result of policies and laws that forcibly removed and dislocated Aboriginal peoples from their traditional lands, culture, and people. The impact of such policies are described in the "Bringing them Home" report (1997).

Another way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might describe themselves, which again relates to their Country (including the waters), is ‘saltwater people’ for those who live on the coast, or ‘freshwater’, ‘rainforest’, ‘desert’ or ‘spinifex’ for people who live in that ecological environment.

Torres Strait Islander peoples prefer to use the name of their home Island to identify themselves to outsiders, for example, a Saibai man or woman is from Saibai, or a Meriam person is from Mer. Many Torres Strait Islanders born and raised in mainland Australia still identify according to their Island homes.

First Nations people is also a term used to encompass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which is growing in popularity. The term First Nations people recognises the diversity of Aboriginal peoples and their cultures and traditions - which represent the first nations of Australia, each with their own languages and law. In the Uluru Statement from the Heart (2017), delegates called for the "establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution".

Possessive terms, such as "our Indigenous peoples", is best avoided where possible, as it implies ownership.

At the international level, there is no official definition of ‘Indigenous peoples’ due to their diversity as peoples. According to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, there are an estimated 370 million Indigenous peoples spread across 70 countries worldwide, each practising unique traditions, retaining social, cultural, economic and political characteristics that are distinct from those of the dominant societies in which they live.

Many Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs. Indigenous peoples possess invaluable traditional knowledge for the sustainable management of natural resources and have a special relationship to, and use of their traditional lands, waters or territories. Ancestral lands, waters and territories are of fundamental importance for their physical and cultural survival as peoples.

In Australia, Indigenous peoples are made up of two distinct cultural groups: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. But there is great diversity within these two broadly described groups exemplified by the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation.

An accepted definition of an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, proposed by the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs in the 1980s and still used by some Australian Government departments today is; a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives. 

This tri-fold definition of Aboriginality has been reaffirmed in several cases by the High Court of Australia, such as the recent Love and Thoms cases.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also have their own laws and customs to determine the membership of their group.

According to the United Nations, the most fruitful approach is to identify rather than define Indigenous peoples. This is based on the fundamental criterion of self-identification as underlined in many human rights documents.

Day of Mourning Protest

Australia Day, on 26 January, commemorates the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet of 11 British ships, raised the flag of Great Britain and proclaimed a colonial outpost of the British Empire in Port Jackson, Sydney Cove.

Though the day had been marked formally as ‘Foundation Day’ in the early years of the colony in New South Wales, the collective nation of Australia did not formally begin until federation on New Year’s Day, 1901. Discussions about holding a national day were raised in the early 1900s and by 1935 all Australian states and territories had adopted the term ‘Australia Day’. However, it wasn’t until 1994 that the whole country began to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January with a national public holiday. 

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, 26 January is not a day of celebration but is seen as a day that commemorates the invasion by British settlers of lands already owned. It also commemorates the trauma caused by government policies of assimilation and separation that saw many people removed from their traditional lands and culture. The violence of the Frontier Wars, a period of conflict between settlers and Australia's Indigenous peoples, which lasted from 1788 up until the time around the Coniston massacre in 1928 is still pierced in the memories and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Often Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will refer to the day as Invasion Day. 

There is a long history of Aboriginal protest on the day, dating back the first Day of Mourning protest in 1938. The Day of Mourning was a protest held by Aboriginal Australians on 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of the British colonisation of Australia.

In the lead-up to the Bicentenary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders embraced the slogan “White Australia has a Black History” and that 26 January 1788 was a day of invasion. Australia is one of few countries in the world that celebrates Australia Day on the date of the arrival of British colonial power while other countries celebrate their Independence from colonial powers or the anniversary of their Constitutional Act. 

Recommended reading: Toxicity swirls around January 26, but we can change the nation with a Voice to parliament

National Sorry Day, held annually on the 26 May, is a significant day for all Australians, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities across the nation. National Sorry Day marks the anniversary of the tabling in Federal Parliament of the Bringing Them Home Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, in 1997. On National Sorry Day we recognise the grief, suffering and loss suffered by the Stolen Generations.

On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a motion of Apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. His apology was a formal apology on behalf of the successive parliaments and governments whose policies and laws "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians". 

Bringing Them Home Report cover

The Stolen Generations refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people that were forcibly removed from their families and communities due to numerous government laws, policies and practices. 

As AIATSIS state:

"The exact number of children who were removed may never be known but there are very few families who have been left unaffected — in some families children from three or more generations were taken. The removal of children broke important cultural, spiritual and family ties and has left a lasting and intergenerational impact on the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

The devastating Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in 1997, which highlighted the removal of Aboriginal children from families. At its open, the report outlines the lasting impacts of these government policies and laws:

"Grief and loss are the predominant themes of this report. Tenacity and survival are also acknowledged. It is no ordinary report. Much of its subject matter is so personal and intimate that ordinarily it would not be discussed. These matters have only been discussed with the Inquiry with great difficulty and much personal distress. The suffering and the courage of those who have told their stories inspire sensitivity and respect.

 

The histories we trace are complex and pervasive. Most significantly the actions of the past resonate in the present and will continue to do so in the future. The laws, policies and practices which separated Indigenous children from their families have contributed directly to the alienation of Indigenous societies today.

 

For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities or their delegates have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren. In no sense has the Inquiry been ‘raking over the past’ for its own sake. The truth is that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians."
 

Further resources on the Stolen Generations: Healing Foundation 

Family is Culture review

Family is Culture review

In October 2019, the Family is Culture review, chaired and authored by Professor Megan Davis, revealed a "culture of non-compliance and a significant lack of accountability” in the NSW out-of-home care system in relation to Aboriginal families. The report also found “multiple instances of poor and unethical newborn removal practices”. The Family is Culture review, therefore highlights on-going issues with Aboriginal child removals several decades after the Bringing Them Home Report. 

As stated within the Family is Culture report: 

"When police are used for removal, especially riot police, this has historical continuity. When babies are removed at hospitals or a pre-natal risk notification is made because the mother is Aboriginal, this has historical continuity. When siblings or twins are separated in care, this has historical continuity.

 

When families reach out … for a carer assessment and are ignored and telephone calls go unreturned, this has historical continuity. When mums and dads are given unrealistic, unachievable goals in order to have their children or grandchildren restored to them, this has historical resonance.

 

Some of the restoration goals are incontrovertibly impossible to be achieved. Some of these practices demonstrate concrete examples of institutional racism. The system is replete with practice that renders our people voiceless and powerless."

 

–  Family is Culture review, Professor Megan Davis’ Introduction, p. XVI

 

Recommended reading‘Aboriginal children deserve better’: Chair of a damning review calls for urgent action

1967 referendum poster

The 1967 referendum is remembered as one of the great successes in the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Certainly, gaining more than 90% of voter support constituted an extraordinary electoral success.

There is a widespread belief that the referendum granted Aboriginal people “equality” before the law by way of voting and citizenship rights. However, from a legal perspective, the changes to the Constitution were minor.

The referendum made two technical changes to the Constitution.

  • The first removed the provision that excluded Aboriginal people from the counting of the people of the Commonwealth.
  • The second was an amendment to remove an exclusion of Aboriginal people from the power to make special laws for people of any race. Prior to the referendum, the states had sole responsibility for making laws for Aboriginal people.

This was a momentous change, but it fell far short of both providing substantive equality and meeting Indigenous aspirations. Indeed, the Constitution still permits the Parliament to enact laws that discriminate based on a person’s race. This power has only ever been used to discriminate against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The referendum was important, but it was only half the story; it did not provide a voice for Aboriginal peoples. As the Uluru Statement explains: ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard’.

We Support the Uluru Statement



What is the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an invitation from First Nations to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”. It was issued to the Australian people in May 2017 following almost two years of work.

The Uluru Statement calls for structural reform including constitutional change. Structural reform means establishing a new relationship between First Nations and the Australian nation based on justice and self-determination where Indigenous cultures and peoples can flourish, and we all move forward.

Specifically, the Uluru Statement as formed by 250 First Nations delegates at Uluru in 2017, calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution. It also calls for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to oversee a process of agreement-making (treaty) and truth-telling. "Voice, Treaty and Truth" refers to these reforms outlined in the Uluru Statement.

Support the Uluru Statement
 

Uluru Statement from the Heart

Where did the Uluru Statement come from?

The Uluru Statement builds on the strong history of Indigenous advocacy for a better future based on justice and self-determination. Gathered in Central Australia in May 2017 on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, First Nations forged a historic consensus on structural reform and constitutional change.

This consensus followed a ground-breaking process First Nations from across Australia through 12 deliberative dialogues. Joining each dialogue were a representative sample of approximately 100 Indigenous people drawn from local traditional owners, Indigenous community-based organisations and Indigenous leaders. These regional dialogues selected their own representatives to attend the First Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru. At the Convention, and by an overwhelming consensus, more than 250 delegates adopted the Uluru Statement.

The key to achieving that remarkable consensus on such a complex problem was a process that was designed and led by First Nations people, which had no precedent in Australian history. That process was agreed to by government after Aboriginal leaders drew a line in the sand in 2015.

At a meeting with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition at Kirribilli House in July 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders made two things clear. If Australia was going to successfully deliver constitutional recognition, it would have to involve substantive reform and make a practical difference – inserting merely symbolic words of acknowledgment would not work. Secondly, the leaders at Kirribilli insisted that First Nations people had to have a direct say in what constitutional recognition meant to them, through a dialogue process that had trust and legitimacy in the eyes of the participants.

In December 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the establishment of the Referendum Council and that it would oversee a deliberative process designed and led by First Nations people. A lot of thought and consultation went into the design of the Regional Dialogues and it was carefully road-tested and trialled before the first Regional Dialogue in December 2016.

Find out more about Uluru

Recommended reading: Three years on from Uluru, voice remains vital

NAIDOC logo

Originally standing for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’, NAIDOC Week is now simply referred to by its acronym. The celebrations of this week can be traced back to the 1920s, borne from protest (including the Day of Mourning protest), but it was officially formed in 1957 when Aboriginal organisations, State and Federal Government and Church groups came together to celebrate.

NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

In 2021, the theme is "Heal Country". Prior themes have included: Voice, Treaty, Truth in support of the Uluru Statement reforms.