The University of Western Australia is celebrating NAIDOC Week (July 4-11) which provides the opportunity to celebrate Australia’s rich cultural history and the many achievements of UWA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and students.
NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee and dates back to Aboriginal groups that formed in the 1920s to raise awareness of the status and treatment of their people.
This year the theme is Heal Country! Healing Country means embracing First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia's national heritage.
UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma said NAIDOC Week served as a timely reminder of Australia’s past and the importance of our culture and history.
“UWA is proud to acknowledge the impact being made by our Indigenous staff and students through research, education and community outreach,” Professor Chakma said. “Their work is making a better society for us all.”
Two of UWA’s inspiring Indigenous advocates include Indigenous Services Officer Brendon DeGois, who is helping high school students aspire to a tertiary education, and medical student Yarlalu Thomas who is on a pathway to becoming a doctor.
Indigenous Services Officer Brendon DeGois, School of Indigenous Studies
Whether it’s coordinating visits on campus or leadership camps for high school students, Brendon DeGois is making a big impact engaging young Indigenous students to help them learn about the diverse range of opportunities that higher education presents.
Mr DeGois, who is of Burmese and Noongar descent, said Indigenous students often faced disadvantage because their parents didn’t get a chance to go to university or even finish high school.
“I’m passionate about educating students so they know about our facilities, services, scholarships, and support we provide so that they can enter university,” he said.
Mr DeGois has a unique claim to fame: kicking Peel Thunder’s first ever goal in the West Australian Football League. He studied human movement at UWA before joining the School of Indigenous Studies team where he has found having a dedicated space to study and socialise with other Indigenous students is invaluable.
“My favourite part of NAIDOC Week is seeing our Indigenous students proudly sharing their culture,” he said.
“It’s also an opportunity for everyone to educate themselves about Australia’s history, and especially the events that took place in our own backyard. Today there are more than 260 Indigenous students at UWA, and that’s largely due to our outreach programs.”
Image: Brendon DeGois.
Doctor of Medicine student Yarlalu Thomas
22-year-old Yarlalu Thomas is passionate about improving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians and those in regional and remote communities.
Born in Derby, WA, the Nyangumarta Pitjikarli man grew up in Warralong, and moved around due to his mother’s career as a native title lawyer.
He said witnessing the effects of not having accessible and appropriate healthcare, and being the first in his community to receive a tertiary education, set him on the path to becoming a doctor and inspired him to make a difference through medicine.
“My goal in life is to live in an Australia where there isn’t a gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” he said.
“I hope to improve public health awareness, provide more accessible healthcare and advocate for better outcomes in all Indigenous communities. To achieve this, it’s important to break down language and cultural barriers through efforts such as precision public medicine.”
As well as studying medicine at UWA, Yarlalu also works at King Edward Memorial Hospital where he is looking into new technology to improve existing health problems.
Last year, Yarlalu was awarded WA Young Australian of the Year. He also enjoys working with Pilbara Faces, which aims to understand 3D facial variation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) to improve diagnosis for children with rare and genetic diseases. He is also involved in the Lyfe Languages, a project focussing on translating medical terminology into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages to provide more equitable health services.
Image: Yarlalu Thomas.