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Powerful story drives Paul’s PhD

Amanda Jones

13 October 2016: For Barkindji man Paul Collis, completing his PhD at the University of Canberra has been a long, personal journey filled with many challenges.

Dr Collis has spent the better part of a decade studying at the University and says it feels unreal to finish his PhD. The 58-year-old completed a Bachelor of Communications and graduated with first class honours before embarking on a creative PhD in communications.

It took Dr Collis seven years to complete his PhD. During this time, he endured enormous loss with 28 family members passing away including his mother and all of his uncles, and then two cousins in one night. As the eldest man in his family, Dr Collis returned to his hometown of Bourke in north western New South Wales a number of times for family and cultural reasons.

He credits a number of visits to Uluru, support from his supervisors, postgraduate colleagues and the Ngunnawal Centre in helping him get back on track and continue with his studies.

“The quiet, peaceful and education-focused environment of UC was an important factor in completing my thesis. The Ngunnawal Centre, in particular, encouraged me and helped me build my confidence— a key ingredient that is often fragile in Indigenous students,” he said.

For his thesis, Dr Collis examined Indigenous masculinity in the 21st century, where he used postcolonial thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Australian Aboriginal authors including his grandfather Archie Knight and others to inform his work.

His novel One day, one night and another day forms part of his thesis and tells the story of Indigenous friends and outsiders leaving jail and heading home. He describes it as a new genre in creative writing.

“It asks the reader to see from the position of ‘other’— in this case, the ‘other’ being that of an Aboriginal man struggling in modern Australia,” he explains.

Dr Collis said he is looking forward to graduating and hopes to continue making his way as a writer and academic.

He also has the following advice for fellow Indigenous students.

“First, acknowledge that this is hard— the university is a new place, language and culture that you have to make sense of. Second, seek support from the Ngunnawal Centre, from the faculty and from mentors, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Finally, commit to it and work at it.”

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