RMIT is opening its doors to up-and-coming Indigenous scientists as part of National Science Week.
The Deadly Day of Science will give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in years 7-10 the opportunity to visit RMIT Bundoora campus for a day of workshops in science disciplines focused on people and health.
Visitors will receive a special welcome and a tour of the campus which rests on the lands of the Wurundjeri Willum, the wedge-tail eagle people. The tour will be guided by Uncle Mik Edwards, a Bunorung and Muthi Muhti man who is an expert in conservation and land management.
The students will be introduced to skills and techniques used in patient care, food product development, as well as pharmacy medicine, exercise and sport science and will access facilities used by RMIT students and researchers at Bundoora campus.
Aunty Kerrie Doyle, a Winninninni woman who grew up on Darkinjung country in New South Wales, is an associate professor in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences who will also be on hand to guide and mentor students on the day.
She said an event like Deadly Day of Science was a perfect fit for Australia’s first peoples.
“Courage and imagination: that’s what a scientist has, and so I think Indigenous people are well-suited to this area,” Aunty Kerrie said.
“The values of RMIT also sit well with Indigenous beliefs – especially in the area of science.”
Aunty Kerrie believes the University is making ground when it comes to strengthening Indigenous participation and practice in the areas of science, technology, engineering, maths (STEM) and health.
“At RMIT, we’ve got great staff who are keen to be more involved in Indigenous learning and teaching – and that makes a big difference,” she said.
“When it comes to the subjects we offer at RMIT, especially in health, engineering and science, I think we do really well in advocating to the Indigenous student community.
“We recently held our annual Victorian Indigenous Engineering Winter School (VIEWS) for young Indigenous students and we have a dedicated centre, The Ngarara Willim Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People on all three of our Melbourne campuses (City, Brunswick and Bundoora), which provides support to all Indigenous students at RMIT.
“Deadly Day of Science is another way we are working to connect with young Indigenous people.”
Traditional Aboriginal people have long been renowned for their science skills, using astronomy to navigate the land, map time and follow seasons for thousands of years before western science.
“We weren’t lost populations just sitting around waiting to be civilised,” Aunty Kerrie said.
“We had a rich culture and a deep knowledge of climate, weather, agriculture and medicine.
“It’s only really now that people are looking at the Indigenous way of translating knowledge through storytelling in order to investigate the underlying science.”
RMIT Nursing graduate, Banok Rind, is a Yamatji-Badimia woman from Amangu country and Badimia country who is looking forward to mentoring students on the day.
“I decided to volunteer for the Deadly Day of Science because I enjoy working with young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids – it was just something that I put my hand up for straight away,” Rind said.
“I know what young high school kids are going through because I’ve been through the same thing and if I can play a part in changing that then I’ll try and do my best.
“Aboriginal kids need role models – people who can say, if I can do it, you can do it too.”
Rind said her own time at high school wasn’t easy and so she’s hoping the participants can learn from her story.
“I moved from Western Australia to Victoria to do Year 11 and 12 where I was the only Aboriginal student in my school,” she said.
“It was a bit of a struggle and I didn’t even think I’d finish high school, let alone university, so I had to overcome a lot of self-doubt.
“I’m hoping to establish a relationship with these students – I want them to know I’m there for them if they need someone to talk to or if they’re struggling at school.”
Aunty Kerrie said it was important to come together with Indigenous youth to share and sustain traditional ways.
“Sharing this knowledge is important because it acknowledges Indigenous science, and that then has an effect on how Aboriginal people are viewed and how they feel about themself,” she said.
“There’s information that we still haven’t uncovered in this world, so if we can meld Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge it will only increase and add value to our world.
“There’s so much knowledge: after all, we’ve survived here for over 40,000 years.”
Aunty Kerrie said she believes the Deadly Day of Science participants will get a lot out of the event.
“The day will be a fantastic opportunity to find out what it takes to study health and science at RMIT and it’ll be a chance for students to meet some interesting people," she said.
“Going forward, I really hope we can continue to close the gap in Indigenous representation in science and health here at RMIT.”
Story: Rebecca McGillivray