At an October 31 demonstration at University of Sydney, Aboriginal students and their supporters rallied to demand the university’s Koori Centre remain open and won important concessions from the university management.
Despite officially acknowledging the Cadigal people of the Eora nation, on whose land the university was built, the administration has pushed ahead with a new strategy for Indigenous education despite serious concerns raised by the students.
In particular, students are concerned that the university’s “Wingara Mura — Bunga Barrabugu” strategy will scatter the Koori Centre’s functions and staff across campus in 16 faculties.
Koori students have collected signatures and tried to at least get a meeting with the deputy vice-chancellor for Indigenous strategy and services, Shane Houston, to discuss the implications of the restructuring on their experience and ability to remain at Sydney University.
However, Houston agreed to meet with the students only after they held a campus rally on October 31, titled “Houston: We Have A Problem”.
The rally — held during the final week of semester — drew more than 60 students to demand the Koori centre stay open. Indigenous campaigner and elder Ray Jackson addressed the rally and a student read out a letter of support from Melbourne-based Aboriginal activist Gary Foley.
Protest organiser Kyol Blakeney told Green Left Weekly: “I promote the idea of more blackfellas in university and more understanding throughout the wider community of the culture, but I do not condone the idea of the removal of the Aboriginal support staff as it makes no sense to take away support when you are trying to encourage other Aboriginals to come to uni and succeed.
“That is the reason why I am in the protest and against Shane Houston.”
Students told GLW that at a meeting after the protest, Houston committed to the students’ main demands, which included retaining the Koori Centre’s facilities, reinstating lost support staff and keeping the Koori Centre as “community space” for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on campus.
However, management has not yet incorporated the students' demands into its new Indigenous student strategy and Houston is yet to sign a document listing the students' demands.
But the students' actions so far show that any attempt to withdraw the commitments or take away resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students on campus will meet resistance.