Dr Sue Gordon AM’s speech at University of Western Sydney and Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation Partnership event

I’d like to acknowledge the Dharawal people on whose land we are gathering this afternoon and thank Aunty Frances Bodkin, Dharawal Elder and Steering Committee member, for her Welcome to Country.

I’d like to also acknowledge Dr Andrew McDonald, MP for Macquarie Fields, Professor Denise Kirkpatrick, UWS Acting Vice Chancellor and President, Steve Montgomery from MWLP, who had the vision for one of our programs in Campbelltown, along with all of you who have taken the time out of your busy schedules to join us here on this important occasion.

Let me start with some names.

Slade Hayward. The first Indigenous student to graduate from Dalyellup College in Western Australia’s South West. His mother a Garawa woman from the Gulf-Carpentaria region of the Northern Territory and his father from two different West Australian tribes, the Nyiyaparli from the Pilbara region and the Noongar from the south-west region. Slade is now enrolled at University and planning to study Mechanical Engineering.

Garryn Wingfield. A graduate from Port Augusta Secondary School in South Australia. A proud Aboriginal Kookatha man who will be the first member of his extended family to attend University.

Shaka Cook. Currently touring around Australia in the acclaimed play Black Diggers. A Yinhawangka man from a small community near Tom Price in Western Australia called Wakathuni. A successful actor and graduate of Australia’s leading centre for education and training in the performing arts NIDA.

These are just three names.

I could tell you about a further 725 bright, young and high achieving Aboriginal men and women who have all graduated from Year 12 with the help of the Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation’s Follow the Dream/Partnerships for Success program.

Some have gone on to University, others to colleges, traineeships or apprenticeships and some straight into employment.

To some people sitting here today this may seem obvious, a given that young people can graduate high school and go on to the future of their dreams, but others sitting here know that this is not the way it has always been.

Let’s rewind the clock for a moment to the mid-1990s, not so long ago: Australia had a crisis on its hands, reflected succinctly in the then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s 1992 Redfern speech. He said:

…in truth, we cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia…

Some 20 or so years later, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in his ‘Statement to the House of Representatives – Closing the Gap’ last year stated:

While I could quibble with aspects of Paul Keating’s Redfern speech, I couldn’t disagree with its central point: that our failures towards Australia’s first people are a stain on our soul. That was a watershed moment for me, as for others.

It was a few years after Prime Minister Keating’s speech, that The Graham (Polly) Farmer Foundation was formed, based on research and most importantly done in collaboration right from the start with Aboriginal people, Government and the private sector.

Launched in 1997, the first program was in Karratha and Roebourne, in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, and had shared input, representation and responsibility between the local Aboriginal Traditional Owners, mining companies, and the WA Department of Education.

Now, some 18 years later, there are more than 1100 Aboriginal students from around Australia participating in one of our 28 Follow the Dream/Partnerships for Success or five primary school programs.

I’m proud to say ours was the first Aboriginal education program of its kind and to this day remains one of the most effective and successful.

Education of all our country’s children and youths is one of the most important tasks we must undertake as a society. It is expensive and complex. Education of our country’s Indigenous children and youths is even more expensive and complex: a problem plagued by history, fragmentation and social complexity.

We know that Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people alike want this problem fixed, but the complexities surrounding it can seem overwhelming.

This is where collaboration is essential.

Today’s launch of a new program here in Campbelltown for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students is a perfect example of this collaborative approach.

It is funded by the Australian Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program, supported by the University of Sydney and our Foundation, and overseen by a steering committee consisting of University Indigenous Elders, Campbelltown Council and Campbelltown/Macarthur partnership brokers MWLP and the NSW Department of Education and Communities.

The people which sit on steering committees manage, review and ensure the programs meet key targets and performance indicators. All these separate parties come together, along with the students’ parents and families, at the beginning of the program to sign an agreement to work together to ensure the success of the student.

This collaborative approach works. All parties put aside their different agendas and work towards the common goal of nurturing and supporting a highly disadvantaged group of people through the difficult journey we call schooling.

All the difficulties are worth it. Remember, these will be our next leaders in Australia, our future CEOs of global businesses and hopefully amongst them, our first Aboriginal Prime Minister.
It may not be easy, and funding is always the biggest challenge, but for the past 18 years, the Foundation has succeeded in making the famous footballer and my friend Graham (Polly) Farmer’s vision come true. As Graham told Board member Dr Ron Edwards, back when the Foundation was established:

Well it is like this: When I lined up on the MCG to kick a goal, they didn’t pull the goal posts apart to make it easier to kick a goal; so if you want to see an Aboriginal person get to the MCG or to get a degree at university, the standards have to be the same for everyone – black and white.

In this complex world all things are not equal; however, together with our partners and the local Indigenous leaders, the Foundation has given, and continues to give, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students around Australia the boost they need to ‘kick their own goals’ on the playing field we call life.

Dr Sue Gordon AM, Patron and President