Lynette Riley – Oorala Aboriginal Centre's Founder

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On September 16, the Oorala Aboriginal Centre and the University of New England celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture series, with a Lecture by the Centre’s founder, Lynette Riley



What is the Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture, and why is it important?
UNE’s Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture series was introduced to honour Frank Archibald, a revered member of the Armidale community, who passed away in 1975. He was renowned for his knowledge of – and interest in – all Aboriginal issues, particularly the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The reason we came up with this as a suggestion was that I had attended a very prestigious lecture at UNE and was very impressed by the speaker and the way it was organised. I thought, “Why couldn’t we have something like this for Aboriginal issues?” Even more importantly, I felt the lecture should be given by prominent Aboriginal people. We spoke to the local community, and they all agreed it should be a memorial lecture to honour a local Aboriginal person. Frank Archibald was a natural choice, as he had recently passed away and a lot of people in the local community were related to him.
This is the 25th Anniversary of the Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture.

That’s a major achievement …
The Frank Archibald lecture series is the oldest Aboriginal lecture series in Australia. The next oldest is 11 years. That’s not a bad achievement at all, I think.

Who else has delivered the lecture over the last 25 years?
When the university established the lecture, its intention was to invite speakers to give a public address on current issues which are important to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, with an emphasis on education.    The lecture, which is held annually, is presented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander speakers who are leading professionals in fields such as education, law, social justice and government. Over the years, speakers have included Noel Pearson, Lilla J. Watson, Mick Dodson, Jackie Huggins, Dr Pat O’Shane, Aden Ridgeway, Deborah Cheetham, Noel Tovey and Rachael Maza Long, Associate Professor Peter O’Mara, Mrs. Dianne Roberts and Gary Oakley.

What was the focus of the Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture this year?
The title of my lecture this year was Influences on Aboriginal lives – a personal reflection.

What affects Aboriginal community engagement?

My presentation focused on how government policies and practices have affected Aboriginal community engagement within societal structures and systems and what the effect is today.
In my talk, I wanted to pay respect to the people involved in establishing the centre and to provide some statistics as to why the programs it runs are needed. I spoke about racism and the importance of engagement. I also gave a brief overview of my career and the role UNE has played in that, which led into a discussion of the paths we sometimes take in life that we don’t realise we are going to go down.

What is the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, and what role does it play at UNE?
The Oorala Aboriginal Centre is a study support and advisory centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students enrolled at UNE. For both on-campus and off-campus students, the Centre offers a range of services, including academic advice, tutoring through the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme and study facilities, with computer laboratory, tutorial rooms and a lounge and kitchen area.

Does the centre run any other programs for students?
The centre also runs programs that help students to access tertiary education, such as the multi-award-winning tertiary preparation program, TRACKS.
The TRACKS tertiary preparation program offers flexible learning, first hand experience in university study and entry to UNE undergraduate awards on successful completion of the program.
The program allows students to draw upon their own experiences and values, while developing skills needed in a successful tertiary career. So far, over 400 students have accessed the program – many of whom have gone on to undergraduate studies at UNE, other tertiary institutions or have chosen to pursue careers through the TAFE system.
You were the first director of the Oorala Centre.

How does it feel to come back to Armidale?
I consider Armidale my second home. I have three kids who were born here. The older ones consider Armidale their home, too. It’s a tremendous honour to be asked to come and present the Frank Archibald Memorial Lecture – and it’s been wonderful to catch up with so many old friends and colleagues while I’m here. It’s wonderful to see the Oorala Centre doing so well. We set the foundations strong, and those who followed us have just built upon and strengthened them. I feel validated to see so many great things coming out of what we started way back in 1986.

Since working at Oorala, where has your journey taken you?
After leaving UNE, I worked as a fifth class teacher, an Aboriginal Development Manager in the Western Institute of TAFE, covering 45 per cent of western NSW, Campus Manager of Dubbo TAFE and the State Manager for Aboriginal Education at the NSW Department of Education. Today I am a Senior Lecturer at Sydney University in the Koori Centre for Aboriginal Studies and Education – so I have come full circle and returned to working with Aboriginal students in a university setting.
What’s the best part of your job?
Teaching and working with Aboriginal students, while having the opportunity to complete my Ph.D and, of course, the really hard part is having to go overseas and present papers in interesting places all over the world!

What do you think the biggest challenges are for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today?
The biggest challenge for Aboriginal students is in understanding the system and academic language. There are still far too few Aboriginal people with positive experiences of the education system. Many of them are constantly in catch up mode. An Aboriginal education review in 2004 showed that while Aboriginal children are on a par with their non-indigenous classmates going into kindergarten, by the time they reach Year 7, where you are expected to have the required educational foundations, they are up to 36 months behind in their literacy and numeracy skills.
The other big challenge is non-indigenous people in the education system. They need to have faith, understanding, and respect for Aboriginal people and to learn about the educational, social and cultural issues they face. If this isn’t done, they don’t support Aboriginal students in a sustainable way. The Oorala Centre has an important role to play in equipping students and educators to face these challenges.

Thanks Lynette.

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