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UC’s new class of Indigenous female leaders

You can't be what you can't see.

So when the 64 newly-enrolled Indigenous students at the University of Canberra begin their studies this year (on top of around 350 existing Indigenous students), they only need to look up to aspire to success.

Proud Bidjara woman Professor Maree Meredith has assumed the position of Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership. The job sits within the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, elevating the role at a defining time in Australia’s history with the Voice to Parliament Referendum on the horizon.

Proud Gamilaroi woman Kirsten Tapine, meanwhile, has assumed the role of Associate Director, Indigenous Leadership and will work closely with Maree.

Together, these women will be developing an Indigenous Leadership strategy to redefine the range and breadth of ways that the university engages with the community.

They will also progress an obvious friendship, with Kirsten saying Maree has already inspired her in many ways.

“I am excited to be working with her! But neither Maree nor I made it here by ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of our beautiful ancestors and those who have come before us and paved the way.”

“Part of our mantra is to hold that space for others and pave the way for the next generation of leaders, because self-development and self-determination are so important for women especially so they can stand in their power and when we do that, we know it can help heal intergenerational trauma,” Kirsten said.

Maree began her term last month, having formerly held the role of Director of Poche SA+NT at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University. Her many priorities at UC include retaining Indigenous staff and recruiting more, expanding Indigenous procurement and engaging with the Ngunnawal community.

“For me, it’s about building a pipeline, about being visible as an Indigenous woman in the most senior position, about encouraging academics and staff and putting a huge focus on pathways to university for school students, but also mature-aged students and women in particular.”

She also drew inspiration from UC Chancellor and Senior Australian of the Year Professor Tom Calma, who has been instrumental in creating the Closing the Gap campaign.

“He is an incredible leader.

“I want the University of Canberra to be the university of choice for Indigenous Australians, and for them to see Indigenous representation at every level of the university.”

UC’s Chancellor and approach to Reconciliation was one of the reasons Kirsten returned to UC, having graduated with a double degree in Commerce and Information Technology from UC in 2018. She said she was inspired to work with Tom as the Chancellor and now Maree – with both women holding the distinction of being the first in family to graduate from university.

They understand the power of education and approach the upcoming Referendum with hope.

According to Kirsten, “Reconciliation is a movement of the heart and is about walking and working together for the betterment of society, and the responsibility should not lie solely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Maree said UC had already hosted some important forums to increase understanding of the key issues. “We have been tying all threads together and generating genuine discussion. I see that as our role as a university, to be a safe space for knowledge to be exchanged.”

Words by Emma MacDonald, photos by Tyler Cherry.

This article was first published in HerCanberra on 21 February, 2023.