The life journeys of several Aboriginal men and women were shared at Federation's Friday Forum last night, ahead of today's Aboriginal Members Conference.
"I believe we are in the fourth phase of our shared history," said Uncle Vic Chapman, who was the first Aboriginal principal in NSW public schools.
"Phase 1, we were spoken about; phase 2, we were spoken for; phase 3, when they wanted us we were spoken to and now phase 4, we must speak for ourselves.
"I believe that process is already underway, and we have great representation in the arts and in education and in the law and now we need to be seen in other areas…all other areas that white fellas are represented in."
Uncle Vic relayed an Aboriginal stockman's observation: 'If you think of us all in a troopy [4WD], for a long time we sat in the back and it was the missionary or someone from the government or a regional organisation driving the vehicle and we decided we wanted to drive; we wanted the family sitting in the back saying where they wanted to go and to own that troopy.
"For a long time now, I believe that education is the vehicle that will take us all where we want to go," Uncle Vic added.
Former public high school student Riley Court Bennet said that after telling a careers adviser he was interested in surf life-saving or paramedics he was handed TAFE forms and suggested he should be a baker.
He gained the baker qualifications while attending school, but a statement made at a school seminar, to the effect that 'whatever your success is, is our success, is Indigenous people's success' and attending a winter school at university before his HSC trials shifted his career path to medicine.
After a year studying science at university he was able to switch to studying medicine. He is working on a public health research project to develop resilience and improve the lives of at risk and Indigenous youth.
Other speakers were:
Kulnura Public School principal Steven Collins — a painter and decorator, and an enrolled nurse, before switching to teaching
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principals' Association President Dyonne Anderson — she is on leave as principal at Cabbage Tree Island Public School
The forum was videoed, as a documentary is being made to record the contribution Federation members have made to uphold the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and advance the cause of Aboriginal education.