‘Mud wizard’ shares their Aboriginal Pathway Program success story

By Melissa Keogh

Some of the pieces in the Outlaws installation. Some of the pieces in the Outlaws installation.

When Tiarnie Edwards first came to the Aboriginal Pathway Program (APP) at UniSA’s Port Lincoln campus, they could barely make it up the steps of the building because of their anxiety about starting university.

Contemporary Arts graduate Tiarnie Edwards.

“I was so anxious, I had retired any ambition for academia after a particularly rough few years since high school,” says the Ngarrindjeri artist based on Kaurna land.

“The APP and its lecturers, tutors and students really re-sparked the desire to learn in that environment. It’s so easy when it’s filled with understanding and community.”

Four years on from that first day, Edwards is now celebrating the next chapter of their life – graduating from UniSA’s Bachelor of Contemporary Art.

They join more than 3000 other graduates who will either cross the stage at Pridham Hall or at graduation ceremonies in Mount Gambier and Whyalla, during April and May.

Edwards’ journey to graduation was made possible through the Aboriginal Pathway Program (APP). The program is designed to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students embrace university study.

It’s also for people who don’t meet standard university entry requirements, such as having an ATAR. After successfully completing the one-and-a-half-year program, students can transfer into any degree at UniSA either in-person or online.

Port Lincoln is one of five locations where the APP is taught, the others being Adelaide, Ceduna, Mount Gambier and Whyalla. For Edwards, the program laid the foundations for their success in the contemporary arts degree, boosting their confidence and introducing them to a community of like-minded ambitious people.

“I cannot overstate the way the APP gave me a place to feel as though I belonged in academia again. Each tutor, lecturer and fellow student held each other up and pushed one another forward,” Edwards says.

“It gave me the grace to fail and succeed in my own time and built up the confidence to feel I could step into a new space, a whole different city and succeed with their support the entire way.”

After becoming Dux of their year in the APP, Edwards pursued the first year of the Contemporary Art degree in Adelaide, trying various art forms – painting, drawing, photography, printmaking, glasswork and jewellery. But something about ceramics caught their attention.

Now a self-proclaimed “mud wizard”, through their artwork, Edwards examines the complexities of identity and culture.

“Recently I have liked to regard myself as a bit of a propagandist. I hope to make sure all my beliefs are loud and clearly reflected in my art. So, whether I am using ceramics, printmaking, drawing or painting, all I really want is to reflect the world and people around me, to make sure they are heard and make myself heard alongside them.”

Recently, Edwards was recognised at the Helpmann Academy Graduate Exhibition Awards for their installation, Outlaws.

They won the JamFactory Ceramics Award in collaboration with the Australian Ceramics Association. The award includes a two-month residency at JamFactory and mentoring, plus the opportunity to have work on consignment in JamFactory’s retail store for 12 months.

Outlaws was a labour of love for me and ultimately a love letter to the diverse and complex identities of Indigenous peoples in the contemporary Australian landscape,” Edwards says.

“It came from my own experiences and love of political and social activism but also an archival gift inspired by all the Indigenous minds I have met including those in the APP.

“They consistently broke the mould of what many Australians believes we, as Indigenous peoples, can be.”

Edwards plans to continue “making things” and showing other people in the communities how to make the most of opportunities that come their way.

“It feels like all the work I’ve done for the past three years in my degree have finally come together and sparked a new chapter I am very excited to undertake.”

APP student and graduates elected to SA First Nations Voice to Parliament

A current Aboriginal Pathways Program (APP) student and two APP graduates have been selected as representatives for the SA First Nations Voice to Parliament, the first election of its kind in Australia.

APP student Danni Smith and APP graduates Rebecca Miller and Dharma Ducasse-Singer will join the advisory board to State Government on policies affecting Aboriginal people living in SA.

Legislation enshrining the SA Voice passed the House of Assembly in March 2023, making SA the first state in Australia to legislate for an Indigenous voice.

UniSA commitment to reconciliation

UniSA is unwavering in its ongoing commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education and engagement. The University’s Stretch Reconciliation Action Plan 2023-2025 continues to guide its collaborative efforts in teaching, research, employment and community engagement activities. These initiatives aim to benefit and uphold the freedom of First Nations Peoples across Australia now and in the future.

In light of last year’s outcome of the national referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, UniSA’s dedication to reconciliation is even more crucial as it strives for justice and the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge and perspectives.