Swinburne reflects on reconciliation at RAP halfway mark

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Smoking ceremony from the first RAP launch.

Swinburne reflects on the journey at the halfway mark of its Elevate RAP.

In summary

  • Swinburne was the first university to achieve Elevate RAP status
  • Increased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and student numbers
  • Provides national and academic leadership in reconciliation

At the halfway mark of its first Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), Swinburne has much to celebrate.

Over the past eighteen months, the university has:

  • brought its Indigenous teams together to create the Moondani Toombadool Centre responsible for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters at Swinburne,
  • increased the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students,
  • embedded reconciliation throughout the university, and
  • provided national and academic leadership in reconciliation.

Swinburne was the first university in Australia to achieve Elevate RAP status, awarded by Reconciliation Australia. This recognises the university’s commitment to drive engagement and visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, culture and experiences throughout the organisation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students

Over the past eighteen months, Swinburne has significantly increased the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying higher education and Pathways and Vocational Education (PAVE) courses, and doubled the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff across the organisation.

“The university’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, including Angela Burt, Emma Lee, Andrew Peters, and Justin Trounson, make an extraordinary contribution to our ongoing reconciliation journey,” says Professor Andrew Gunstone, Executive Director Reconciliation Strategy and Leadership, and Executive Director of Swinburne’s Moondani Toombadool Centre.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members, Swinburne offers a professional development fund of 20 per cent of their annual salary, providing opportunities to celebrate and extend their knowledge.

Swinburne Research and the Moondani Toombadool Centre award an annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander postdoctoral fellowship and PhD scholarship, adding to the broader body of knowledge and experience.

“Our commitment to rigorous research has seen several outstanding postdoctoral fellows and PhD students take up these opportunities, and they are transforming Swinburne through their significant and innovative research,” says Professor Gunstone.

“The Centre is also conducting innovative research. For example, increasing numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are choosing to study online, and we’re researching how to better support their connection to each other, to country, and to the university,” he says.

Embedding reconciliation

Professor Gunstone says reconciliation, the RAP and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters have become embedded across Swinburne.

“Every time a Swinburne computer is switched on our Acknowledgement of Country appears. It’s an important acknowledgement and recognition of Wurundjeri sovereignty.

“We’ve had fantastic support from our executive leadership team, but reconciliation is everyone’s business,” he says.

And Swinburne staff have stepped up to the challenge. Working with the Moondani Toombadool Centre, academics and teachers have engaged with Indigenous knowledge in their teaching practices and partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, professionals and the broader community.

“We also created a RAP supporters network for staff members to recognise what people across the university are doing and to encourage greater engagement in their own teams,“ says Professor Gunstone.

All Swinburne staff undertake compulsory online training, and from 2019 all new Swinburne higher education students will complete an online mandatory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competency module.

A wider perspective

Swinburne also provides national and academic leadership, with the Moondani Toombadool Centre providing advice to numerous organisations – from government departments and football clubs to other higher education institutes and community groups – on their reconciliation journeys.

“Helping other organisations understand reconciliation and RAPs has become a major part of our role,” says Andrew.

“It’s extremely rewarding and signifies the next stage of our work and recognition of our Elevate experience.

The Centre also organises two annual public lectures – the Swinburne Reconciliation Lecture and the Swinburne Barak-Wonga Oration.

“We’ve now held five public lectures featuring prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics, community and political leaders, and Swinburne and community participation at these events is going from strength to strength,” says Professor Gunstone.

“Our inaugural National Reconciliation Action Plan Conference will be held in December, sharing our experience and expertise with organisations already on their journey, starting their journey or not sure what next steps to take.

“It is critical that our nation continues on its journey of reconciliation – to acknowledge history, improve relationships, recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and address racism.”

The National Reconciliation Action Plan Conference is co-hosted by the Moondani Toombadool Centre, Swinburne University of Technology, Reconciliation Australia and the Richmond Football Club on 5-6 December. Keynote speakers include Stan Grant (who is presenting the 2018 Swinburne Reconciliation Lecture), Dr Jackie Huggins AM and Professor Tom Calma AO. Registrations are now open.