RMIT’s commitment to reconciliation is what attracted Professor Mark McMillan to become the University’s first Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Indigenous Education and Engagement.
The Wiradjuri man is tasked with supporting the University’s aspirations to achieve reconciliation between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, set out in its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), launched last year.
But he sees it as a long road.
“It was the RAP’s vision of a shared future in the 21st century, seeing reconciliation as essential to empowering students and staff and shaping the world,” McMillan, who joined RMIT in March, said.
“It starts with the conversation changing. One of the questions is why is the relationship with Indigenous Australians unique and different to other relationships?
“Having the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive leading the conversation gives us all at RMIT the opportunity to enhance the relationships.
“This isn’t going to change in a year, it’s incremental, generational.
“We want people to feel better about their place, about being with us during this transformation.
“There is undoubtedly a level of hope that I have observed, now we need to take that hope into activity which will require finding a baseline for where the transformation can occur.”
The human rights lawyer turned academic is originally from Trangie, New South Wales.
The experience of growing up seeing the resilience of Indigenous culture and people, despite their treatment before and after the 1967 referendum, led McMillan to study the law.
“In my lifetime my mother and grandmother were not citizens in this country,” he said.
“Most Australians have never known how it is being a non-person in the western world, in their own country, but they were strong Wiradjuri women,” he said.
Academic life found McMillan, he didn’t actively seek it.
“I was friends with (Indigenous academic) Professor Larissa Behrendt and she asked me had I considered the possibility of an academic career?
“She was the one who encouraged me to go to the University of Arizona, which has the world-renowned Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program – the only named law degree that deals with Indigenous law.”
RMIT is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum – to amend the constitution to include Aboriginal people in the census and allow the Commonwealth to create laws for them – and the first anniversary of the RAP, with the opening of the new Ngarara Willim Centre at Bundoora campus on 1 June.
The key achievements in the 12 months since the RAP was launched include:
- The appointment of Professor Mark McMillan at RMIT.
- RMIT’s Colleges and Portfolios developing individual Indigenous Engagement Plans to address the six RAP Action Areas.
- Ngarara Place Indigenous garden winning the Victorian Premiers’ Design Award for best Design Strategy, as a significant Indigenous place maker in Melbourne.
- RMIT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment Plan launched.
- The University becoming a member of Supply Nation – the Australian leader in supplier diversity. Established in 2009, Supply Nation connects its membership of Australia’s leading brands, government and organisations with Indigenous businesses across the country.
Story: Louise Handran