N’Arwee’t Professor Carolyn Briggs AM is a descendant of the First Peoples of Melbourne, the Yaluk-ut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung. She is Elder in Research in RMIT’s College of Design and Social Context.
N’Arwee’t Professor Carolyn Briggs AM is a descendant of the First Peoples of Melbourne, the Yaluk-ut Weelam clan of the Boon Wurrung. She is the great-granddaughter of Louisa Briggs, a Boon Wurrung woman born near Melbourne in the 1830s.
Carolyn has been involved in developing and supporting opportunities for Indigenous youth and strategies for the promotion and maintenance of Boon Wurrung culture and heritage for over 40 years.
She is passionately committed to sharing the values and heritage of Melbourne's First Peoples – the Boon Wurrung – and believes that a sense of a shared history of Melbourne is important in uniting the whole community.
Carolyn completed a Bachelor Degree in Language and Linguistics in the hope of recording her Boon Wurrung language in oral and written form. Later, she taught Design Anthropology at Swinburne University whilst doing her Masters, which then became a PhD in the roles and responsibilities of an Elder.
Carolyn completed her PhD at RMIT University in 2020 and graduated with her daughter (who completed a Masters in Public Art) and her granddaughter (who completed Honours in Fine Art) who finished their studies in the same year. She has a strong connection to RMIT with generations of Briggs family having studied at the University, dating back to its days as the Working Men’s College.
Carolyn was appointed Elder in Residence at RMIT in 2019 and in 2022 took on the role of Elder in Research the College of Design & Social Context.
She has worked across education, government and community sectors and is a member of the National Congress of Australia's First People. She is also the chairperson and founder of the Boon Wurrung Foundation, which was established in 2005. The Foundation is responsible for significant work in cultural research, including restoration of the Boon Wurrung language, and helps connect Aboriginal youth to their heritage.
Carolyn's cultural knowledge and experience has been recognised by communities throughout Australia. These achievements include being:
- Awarded the National Aboriginal Elder of the Year in 2011 by the National NAIDOC Committee
- Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2005
- Entered into the 2012 and 2013 "Who's Who Australia"
- Inducted into the 2017 Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll
- Awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 2019
Early Career & training
Carolyn trained in Mothercraft and childcare and was involved in establishing the course for Indigenous people in the childcare industry at the Prahran CAE/Swinburne (now known as Melbourne Polytechnic). She set up the first Aboriginal Child Care Centre in Dandenong in the 1970's and has worked across many Aboriginal communities in Victoria and nationally.
In 1973, Carolyn worked at Monash University working with Indigenous peoples around Australia.
In 1984 she moved to Bendigo from Swan Hill and went into primary school teaching and set up ATISU (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Support Unit) with a scholarship for teachers. The following year, Carolyn established the Dja Dja Wurrung Cultural Centre and Business Hub in Bendigo.
Carolyn then studied Social Science at LaTrobe University and, upon graduating, began he work developing community programs. After returning to Melbourne, she was appointed as a support worker at the Aboriginal Support Unit, and later appointed to teach Indigenous Studies at the Alice Hoy Education Centre, Melbourne University.
In the late 1990s, Carolyn had a fine dining restaurant (Bush Cuisine), where Federation Square is now located, and a catering business. During this time, she also ran an educational tour company called Aboriginal Tracks Australia.
Later, Carolyn contracted for Community Aid Abroad in India, and then in Zimbabwe and South Africa. When she returned to Australia, Carolyn applied to study her language at the Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs. During this time, she wrote her first language book, The Boon Wurrung Journey Cycle.
Following the publication of this book, Carolyn developed a book on the Boon Wurrung history of the Bayside municipality in Melbourne.
N’Arwee’t is Elder in Research, based in the College of Design & Social Context at RMIT. She is also a researcher with the Lowitja Institute.
Her research is focused on:
- Indigenous oral traditions
- Transforming Indigenous knowledge into modern resources
- Indigenous knowledges and resources in textiles
- Children’s Sensorium Play
- Augmented Reality & RMIT Future Play Lab
Her PhD in Philosophy investigated defining the roles and responsibilities of an Elder through oral traditions, and how to transform these traditions into resources for urban youth to understand Indigenous knowledge.
- PhD (began at Swinburne, completed at RMIT)
- B Arts (Linguistics) (Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education)
In addition to her work at universities, Carolyn has extensive industry experience across government, community and arts sectors.
Carolyn was seconded by the Victorian Government Premier and Cabinet to develop strategies for employment of Aboriginal People in the Public Service. She was also commissioned to work with Human Rights & Equal Opportunity and was then seconded by the Federal Government to work as head researcher for the underlying issues unit – Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
In the arts sector, Carolyn set up the Buronga Multicultural Festival in New South Wales and worked with Torch in establishing a Boon Wurrung Yaluk-ut Weelam festival which ran for 10 years in St Kilda. She also designed public art installations for Boon Wurrung stories, which can be seen along the Port Phillip Bay coastline in Bayside. Carolyn also worked closely with Footscray Community Arts in establishing the Womindjeka Festival.
- Carolyn is on a number of boards and committees including:
- Good Design Ambassador, Good Design Australia
- Chair, Boon Wurrung Foundation
- National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
- Yulendj Elders Council, Museums Victoria
- Aboriginal Culture Heritage Advisory Committee, Museums Victoria
- Indigenous Advisory Committee, ACMI
- Indigenous Advisory Group & Elder in Residence, Footscray Community Arts
- Elder in Residence, Ilbijerri
- Briggs, C.,Buckley, J.,Chesworth, D.,Coyne, T.,Leber, S., et al, . (2023). Listen - Look up! Listen - Look down! Experiencing the counter-city through a sonic and augmented reality experience of urban undergrounds in southeast Melbourne In: Cities, 142, 1 - 15
- McQuilten, G.,Briggs, C. (2022). The Children's Sensorium In: Big Anxiety Festival Melbourne, Australia
- Briggs, C.,Burfurd, I.,Duckham, M.,Guntarik, O.,Kerr, D.,McMillan, M.,San Martin Saldias, D. (2020). Bridging the geospatial gap: Data about space and indigenous knowledge of place In: Geography Compass, 14, 1 - 17
- Briggs, C.,Davies, H.,Guntarik, O.,Innocent, T. (2019). TIMeR Audiowalk: Stories of Land, River and Sky In: RMIT Engaging for Impact 2019 conference Melbourne, Australia
- Urban Commons: co-creating place with young people through creative play. Funded by: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation - JumpStart! Grant from (2023 to 2024)
- Memefest Social Design: Food and Culture. Funded by: New Colombo Plan Mobility Program from (2022 to 2023)