UniSA honours Aboriginal trailblazer

Prof Mary Ann Bin-SallikEmeritus Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik, AO, will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of South Australia today, marking her lifetime commitment to Aboriginal education and advancement and her special place in the foundation of the University of South Australia, as a leader in Aboriginal histories and cultures and teacher education.

A Djaru woman from Northern Australia, Prof Bin-Sallik was the first Aborigine to graduate as a nurse in Darwin and she spent 17 years in the health care sector, working in Darwin and remote locations such as Lajamanu, before pursuing an academic career.

Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says Prof Bin-Sallik holds a special place in the history of the University and in the history of Aboriginal academic achievement in Australia.

“In an era when the choices for Aboriginal women were both limited and bleak, MaryAnn aspired for knowledge,” Prof Lloyd says.

“She understood that education would offer her life choices and give her a kind of self-determination she would otherwise not have – what she did with that education has become legendary.

“She was the first Aboriginal graduate of nursing in Darwin and later, a half a world away in the United States, the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate with a Doctorate in Education from Harvard.

“But not only did she get an education, she also guided and championed many hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to complete their education, both through her work at UniSA and other universities, her research, and her advocacy on national councils and boards. She started her academic career at the lowest lecturing scale and reached the level of Pro Vice Chancellor.

“We are very proud to present her with the Honorary Doctorate.”

Delighted with the acknowledgement, Prof Bin-Sallik says she wants to continue to promote education as a path to fulfilment and self-determination.

“Education opens up the world for people, it brings understanding, innovation and empowerment,” Prof Bin-Sallik says.

“That is something we should want for all children and it is certainly something for which I will continue to strive for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“If my career proves anything, it is that the opportunity to pursue education is one of the greatest gifts.”

Moving from Darwin to South Australia in 1974, and in 1975, Prof Bin-Sallik was employed at the South Australian Institute of Technology working in the Aboriginal Task Force (ATF) a national program which was the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher education program in the country, as its Student Counsellor studying part time, while working full time and raising two daughters.

In 1980 she became the coordinator of the program. This program became the blueprint for what we now know as Australia’s Indigenous Higher Education Sector.

From a non-accredited course program, it went on to enrol its students in courses in the School of Social Work and the Elton Mayo School of Business, and then developed the degree in Aboriginal Affairs Administration which was the first degree in Australia to celebrate the importance of Indigenous Australian cultures at the degree level.

Prof Bin-Sallik pursued her academic aspirations, gaining entry into a Masters program in Education Administration at Harvard University in 1985. She went on to complete a Doctorate in Teaching and Learning, making her the first Aboriginal Australian to graduate from Harvard University with a PhD.

She returned to Adelaide in 1989 to take up the role of Senior Lecturer in Aboriginal Studies at the South Australian College of Advanced Education (S.A.C.A.E) and within months was appointed to the position of Head School of Aboriginal and Teacher Education. When the College merged to be part of the new University of South Australia she later became Dean of Unisia’s College of Indigenous Education and Research.

Prof Bin-Sallik says it is a feather in the cap for South Australia that the geneses of the Indigenous Higher Education Sector in Australia began in Adelaide at the University of South Australia’s antecedent institution, the South Australian Institute of Technology.

In 2001, Prof Bin-Sallik returned to Darwin to accept a role at Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University) as the Dean of the Faculty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. In 2015 she was appointed the inaugural Pro Vice Chancellor: Indigenous Leadership.

Ever-engaged, Prof Bin-Sallik was a member of the Council of the Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Co-Commissioner for the Human Rights Commission’s Enquiry into the Forced Removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children.

She has continued to advocate for Indigenous participation in higher education and has been involved in government, university, community advisory, and review groups that have greatly influenced education and equity policies for Indigenous Australians.

In 2016 she was named NAIDOC’s Female Elder of the year and this year she was Awarded and Order of Australia in recognition of her passion and commitment to ensuring there are more opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to access education and succeed.

News editors please note: Emeritus Professor Bin-Sallik will be conferred on March 29 at the 10.30 am graduation ceremony at the Adelaide Conventions Centre.

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli  mobile 0418 823 673 email michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au





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