As a child, Maree Meredith’s parents drummed into her the importance of education.
So, after being the first in her family to complete schooling, and going on to finish an undergraduate degree, a Masters, and a PhD, it seems only fitting that she has found a career in the Higher Education sector.
A proud Bidjara woman, Maree grew up a long way from Canberra, in country Queensland.
“I grew up outside Ipswich, but I moved away quite young to do my schooling – so for many years I’ve worked off my own Country and in other communities,” Maree says.
“I grew up in a family where all the women were really quite intelligent, really brainy. I always had great role models around – Aunties and Uncles and cousins.
“My parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to school, so they valued education.”
Now, in her role as Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership, Maree is in a position to inspire and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying at the University of Canberra.
She knows that she’s able to genuinely improve education outcomes for Indigenous people.
“With many of our Indigenous students being the first in their family to attend university, they’re not just doing it for themselves – they’re doing it for others,” Maree says.
“Being a role model is really, really important. If they can see someone else can do it, then they ask ‘well, what could I do?’.”
Maree knows only too well the difference an education can make not just to an individual, but to their entire community.
“It’s also about giving back to your family and community because it does take those people behind the scenes to get you through, you don’t get there by yourself,” she says.
“This role is an opportunity for me to give back and make sure that we’ve got the next generation coming through to get those opportunities.”
Having worked in the Higher Education sector for over ten years now, Maree knows just how much of a difference having female, Indigenous role models can make for those who are studying or in the early part of their career.
Her passion for the area is clear.
“The thrill that I get working in this space is being able to empower others to stand alongside me and do the work that I am so passionate about,” Maree says.
“I’ve had a varied career, but this is the longest time I’ve worked in the one sector and I think it shows that in Higher Education there are a lot of opportunities for our mob.”
Maree knows she can make a difference – but she also knows she can’t do it alone. She’s more than aware of those who have paved the way in the Indigenous education space.
“The Indigenous women in academia are just amazing. I’ve been able to benefit from those women that have come before me, that have paved the path,” Maree says.
“I’ve also had bosses in the past who have really empowered me, so I’m very thankful for that."
“And now I’m in a position where I can see something in somebody and enable them to follow that. I really want to mould the future leaders of our society.”
Those future leaders are one of the things that inspire Maree the most to keep doing what she’s doing.
And now, she’s looking to use her position at UC to continue the tradition of empowering young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be the best they can be, and pursue anything they’d like to.
“I’m excited to see the next generation come through. That’s absolutely a really important responsibility of my job now, is to create the space – and hold the space – for that next generation,” Maree says.
“Every student that comes through, they come with something, and it’s my job to see that and tap into that potential. They’re not empty vessels. This job is about paying attention to people.”
Maree is also determined to make UC a space prospective Indigenous students choose to come to, in order to feel safe and welcomed.
A space, she says, where everyone belongs.
“It’s my job to make sure that not only are students getting a great experience, but they’re getting a little something extra – they’re being cared for and looked after,” Maree says.
“Everybody needs to belong somewhere, and so my job at UC is to make sure that students come here and they feel a sense of belonging.”
Words by Elly Mackay, photos by Tyler Cherry.