Indigenous education champion and former member of singing group The Sapphires, Lois Peeler AM, has received an honorary doctorate from RMIT University.
Peeler, a recognised elder of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri heritage, passionate educator and leader, was presented with the Doctor of Social Science Honoris Causa at RMIT's recent Doctoral Degrees Graduation Ceremony.
She is currently the Executive Director and Principal of Worawa Aboriginal College – the only boarding school in Australia that caters specifically for young Aboriginal women.
Peeler told the audience that the College’s education model responded to community needs and represented a highly effective, culturally responsive approach to improving outcomes in Indigenous schooling.
She also acknowledged RMIT for creating a culturally safe place of learning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
“RMIT has been a constant leader in walking with Aboriginal people, creating pathways and experiences for Aboriginal youth so they can enter into any world, with their own culture supported and the appropriate knowledge bases developed,” she said.
The University’s inclusive values meant that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students had an opportunity to access knowledge that empowered them and enabled them to have greater choice in where life would take them and how they would shape the world as Indigenous people.
Peeler’s upbringing included family life on the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve where activism for improved conditions for Aboriginal people was deeply embedded.
She grew up surrounded by strong women who, based on their personal experiences, led the fight for equal rights for Aboriginal people to education, healthcare, housing, legal services and social justice.
Peeler has had a diverse career in the music industry, social activism, tourism and Aboriginal education.
One of the original members of The Sapphires, an all-girl singing group from the 1960s, she is also acknowledged as Australia's first Aboriginal model and TV presenter.
Peeler’s career in the community sector began as Assistant Director of the Aborigines Advancement League, leading to senior positions in the State and Federal public service.
She headed Aboriginal Tourism Australia for more than a decade, leading Aboriginal tourism development and marketing and co-authoring the Respecting our Culture tourism accreditation program for the Australian Tourism industry.
In 2003 Peeler received The Centenary Medal for her work in tourism. In 2014 she was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for her significant service to the Indigenous community as an educator, advocate and role model.
She is currently Chairperson of the Department of Justice and Regulation’s Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (Eastern), a member of the Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Justice Forum, and Chairperson of the Eastern Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. Peeler is involved in the implementation of the Marrung Aboriginal Education Action Plan.
Peeler was named Senior Victorian Australian of the Year 2017 late last year and was a finalist in this year’s Australian of the Year awards.
Next week RMIT celebrates the first anniversary of the launch of its Reconciliation Action Plan.
The key achievements since the RAP was launched are:
- RMIT’s Colleges and Service Portfolios have developed individual Indigenous Engagement Plans to address the six RAP Action Areas.
- Ngarara Place Indigenous garden has won 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 has become 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.
- RMIT’s first Aboriginal Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor – Indigenous Education and Engagement, Professor Mark McMillan, has been appointed.
Story: Louise Handran