However far we voyage, we are always guided home

14 December 2021

Like sea turtles overcoming treacherous waves to return home, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates could contribute to making life better for their families and communities.

That’s according to Francis Nona (pictured), a proud Badulaig man from the Torres Strait, who spoke on behalf of graduands attending UQ’s recent Indigenous Sashing Ceremony at Customs House.

“Every one of us has an invaluable skill to contribute to our communities,” Mr Nona said.

“We have been an example to inspire and guide others so there can be more turtles to make the long arduous voyage and the number of Indigenous Australians achieving university qualifications will continue to increase.

“Whether you are an architect, a teacher, a nurse or a sports scientist, you are a knowledge holder of both your traditional ways and the university knowledge you have now gained.”

Mr Nona, who completed a Master of Public Health with a focus on Indigenous Health, was presented with a Postgraduate Course Excellence Award.

As well as achieving a GPA of 6, he is currently an Indigenous Pathways Lecturer in the School of Public Health and has contributed to several peer-reviewed scholarly articles looking at Indigenous Health.

Mr Nona has a passion for closing the gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians in a number of key areas, while improving Indigenous health outcomes. He is continuing as a PhD candidate.

Other award winners included:

Undergraduate Academic Excellence Award - Bachelor of Arts (Art History) graduate Adam Ford

Mr Ford received the Dean's Commendation for Academic Excellence three times during his program and has been an active member of the ATSIS Unit community, including the Goorie Berrimpa Student Collective.

In 2020, he was the first recipient of the Kinnane Indigenous Curatorial internship at UQ’s Arts Museum. Since graduating, Adam has already been employed by two of Brisbane’s major arts organisations, the Institute of Modern Art and the Gallery of Modern Art.

Research Higher Degree Excellence Award - Dr Jared Miles

Dr Miles completed his PhD in Medicinal Chemistry with a focus on the way in which drugs can deliver in a targeted fashion (with six publications).

Dr Miles has been doing pharmacy practice and research at the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health, concentrating on lab-based pharmaceutical research.

He hopes to bring a fresh perspective and enthusiasm to the School of Pharmacy, particularly around social accountability, and communication in pharmacy.  He also hopes to inspire future students wanting to study pharmacy or go into scientific research.

Goorie Berrimpa Student Engagement Award - Rodney Beatty.

Mr Beatty received this award for displaying the conduct of a big brother or sister to fellow students, for demonstrating attributes of mentoring and leadership, and for making a significant contribution to the ATSIS Unit Community.

Mr Beatty graduated with a dual Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Secondary Education and has been actively involved with the student collective since he began his program at UQ.

He has performed at three NAIDOC Balls as part of the UQ Torres Strait Islander Dance Group. He has also helped coach the Uni Games Netball Team and even once played for the Goorie Goanna’s Rugby Sevens Team.

Mr Beatty is a strong advocate for Indigenous education and is passionate about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges and perspectives in the classroom.

During the Sashing Ceremony, an enthusiastic group of Indigenous graduands – among a total of 78 eligible to graduate from UQ degrees in December - chose to celebrate with friends, family, UQ staff, scholarship donors, and Elders and community members.

The ceremony was MC’ed by Sandra Phillips, the Associate Dean (Indigenous Engagement) in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, while awards were announced by Professor Tracey Bunda, Academic Director of the ATSIS Unit.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement), Professor Bronwyn Fredericks thanked all those who had supported the student journey, including family members, peers, UQ staff and scholarship and program donors.

“Thanks to all graduands for enriching our lives but also having the self-belief and determination to succeed, to keep going,” Professor Fredericks said.

“It’s been a really hard last few years for some of you in terms of pushing and persevering … I also hope you had some fun along the way … I hope we will continue to see you at events for alumni and for the whole University in years to come.”

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Deborah Terry AO noted that the Sashing Ceremony had become a popular and important rite of passage for Indigenous students.

“The number of enrolled Indigenous students studying at UQ has almost doubled over the past decade from 263 students in 2011 to 513 this year, as has the number of completing students during this period,” Professor Terry said.

“UQ now has around 230 Indigenous staff, close to double the number from five years ago. We hope to continue to build on this momentum with the next iteration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Strategy.”

UQ Chancellor Peter Varghese AO was among distinguished guests at the ceremony.