The Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous has overall responsibility for ensuring that UNSW delivers on its agenda for Indigenous students, while showcasing and developing UNSW research across important areas of Indigenous policy and nurturing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars.


The Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous is Professor Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble Aboriginal woman from the Barrungam nation in south-west Queensland and is one of Australia’s most highly regarded lawyers specialising in public law and public international law.

Yes - Nura Gili is the Indigenous Programs Unit at UNSW. Nura Gili provides pathways for prospective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to study in all UNSW faculties and programs. They also provide a range of Indigenous student support services, tutorial and study spaces for enrolled students. As well, the Unit houses Nura Gili’s Indigenous Studies programs, academics and researchers and facilities for higher research degree students. All undergraduate and postgraduate Indigenous students at UNSW are welcome to use the services, programs and facilities.


Nura Gili Programs Unit is located at:

Balnaves Place,

Lower Ground Floor,

Electrical Engineering Building


Telephone: +612 9385 3805


In 2017, there were 408 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled at UNSW.

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

The term ‘Indigenous Australian’ is used to encompass both Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander peoples. At the same time, many 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. 

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 practicing 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.

Australia’s Indigenous peoples are two distinct cultural groups made up of 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 Indigenous Australian 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.

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

Aboriginal people have referred to themselves for example as Koori, Murri or Nunga, which is relevant to the greater region they are connected to. Aboriginal identities can also directly link to their language groups and traditional country (a specific geographic location), for example, Gunditjamara people are the traditional custodians 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.

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.

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.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there are 649,200 people who reported being of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander origin in 2016, 91 per cent were of Aboriginal origin, 5 per cent were of Torres Strait Islander origin, and 4.1 per cent reported being of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin.

The Australian Constitution is the founding political and legal document of our nation. It underpins our federal laws and system of government. Written over a century ago, it was shaped by the values and beliefs of the time, without input from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples. In fact, the only mention of the nation’s First Peoples was to exclude them.


The Referendum Council was established by the Federal government in 2015 to continue engagement with the Australian community regarding the nature of constitutional recognition in Australia. The creation of the Council by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the third mechanism in seven years set up by the Commonwealth government to settle on a form of constitutional “recognition” for Indigenous Australians. Through the Referendum Council, a wide-ranging process took place, which included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-designed and led consultations, made up of twelve First Nations Regional Dialogues and the National Constitutional Convention in May 2017, where the Uluru Statement from the Heart (the Uluru Statement) was adopted. 


The Uluru Statement calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling between governments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The First Nations Voice is intended to encourage active participation in democratic processes. This is particularly important given the inconsistent record on genuine engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on issues that affect their lives. Further, these objectives reflect the nature and principles of reform desired rather than specify details at this stage of any proposed changes to the Australian Constitution.


The Uluru Statement is the achievement of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and youth who contributed on behalf of their people. The main organisers were Professor Megan Davis, Cobble Cobble of Queensland, a constitutional lawyer and Pro-Vice Chancellor Indigenous from the University of New South Wales, Dr Pat Anderson, an Alyawarre woman of the Northern Territory, and Chair of the Lowitja Institute, and Noel Pearson from the Bama Bagaarrmugu peoples of North Queensland and the Director of the Cape York Institute. All three, (known as the Indigenous Steering Committee) with several technical legal advisers from UNSW Law, as well as others including youth and Indigenous regional advisers and Conveners carried the Dialogues to their destination at Uluru.

Despite public willingness to consider the proposals of the Uluru Statement, such as the key proposition for a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to Parliament it was rejected by the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull. In October 2017, in a joint statement with the attorney generalGeorge Brandis, and the Indigenous affairs minister, Nigel Scullion, who co-sponsored a cabinet submission in support of the proposal, Turnbull said the voice to Parliament “would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament”. He also stated, “the Referendum Council provided no guidance as to how this new representative assembly would be elected or how the diversity of Indigenous circumstance and experience could be fairly or democratically represented”. He further stated “moreover, the government does not believe such a radical change to our constitution’s representative institutions has any realistic prospect of being supported by a majority of Australians in a majority of states.” Instead, the government announced a joint parliamentary committee to consider the Uluru Statement in the context of other proposals for constitutional reform.

A treaty has been a longstanding aspiration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Uluru Statement calls for Makarrata, a Yolngu word meaning “the coming together after a struggle.” It would represent recognition of the ancient sovereign position of Australia’s First Nations and reorientate the future relationship with the rest of Australia.

While there are moves in several states and the Northern Territory to start negotiating treaties, the Uluru Statement calls for a national settlement. A national treaty could set a framework and minimum standards under which regional and local treaties can be negotiated. Of course, the relationship between a national process and the current state and territory processes will also have to be part of the coming negotiations.

The Uluru Statement acknowledges that the journey towards a national treaty will be a long one, separate from the proposed constitutional change. It calls for the establishment of an independent commission to oversee the process. Australia would not be the first country to embark on a process of modern-day treaty-making. In British Columbia, Canada, a Treaty Commission was established in 1992 to oversee treaty negotiations between the province’s First Nations and the federal and provincial governments. The Commission itself doesn’t negotiate the treaties; it is an independent facilitator.

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 Australia 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 January 26 with a national public holiday

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, January 26 is not a day of celebration, but is seen as a day which 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.


In the lead-up to the Bicentenary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders embraced the slogan “White Australia has a Black History” and that January 26, 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. 

National Sorry Day 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, on 26 May 1997. On National Sorry Day we recognise the grief, suffering and loss suffered by the Stolen Generations.

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, but it was 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.


NAIDOC Week will be held from 7 to 14 July 2019. Each year, there is a theme for NAIDOC Week. The National NAIDOC Theme for 2019 is - Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let's work together for a shared future.