RMIT is supporting a new generation of Indigenous researchers, funding two Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous pre-doctoral fellows.
Mark Jones and Megan Kelleher recently began their PhDs as part of the fellowships, which aim to support higher degree research candidates from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and build Indigenous research capacity.
They each receive a four-year fellowship and the opportunity to build their research track record and reputation, supported by training, development and mentorship.
Developing Indigenous business
Jones, a Yawuru man studying in the School of Management, is researching a business management model that incorporates aspects of capitalism that can further enhance Aboriginal sovereignty.
“What I am trying to work out is how and what management disciplines you can bring to Indigenous enterprises and markets and also accelerate their success,” he said.
“The factors for success and failure for an Indigenous enterprise and a traditional enterprise are the same. The difference, broadly speaking, is that Indigenous enterprises often have a cultural aspect to how they operate.
“What I really want to do is create a model that can incorporate industry best practice for management but not at the exclusion of the social and cultural factors. I don’t know how yet – that’s one of the questions my research will answer.”
Jones said the first 100 per cent Indigenous-owned and operated mine and training centre was launched in Gulkula in the Northern Territory in late 2017. Bauxite from the mine will be sold to Rio Tinto for export to domestic and international customers.
The model was similar to the well-known paddock to plate model in the food industry, Jones said.
“What I’m interested in is how do you replicate that Gulkula model? Can it be done better across different locations like urban, regional and remote?”
Jones’ love of football as a child prompted him to study a Bachelor of Human Movement studies. He then went on to complete postgraduate studies in business and marketing and worked as a sports facilities manager.
He was working as RMIT’s manager of social enterprise when the four-year Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous pre-doctoral fellowship opportunity was advertised in late 2017.
“There aren’t a lot of Aboriginal academics so it is positive to see that increasing,” Jones said.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. It’s a credit to the university and the people within it that these kind of opportunities exist.”
And Jones is confident students will benefit as well.
“I think that getting students exposed to Indigenous Australia, the history, the culture is beneficial as it exposes them to the diversity of the country,” he said.
New tech, ancient culture
Megan Kelleher is based in the School of Media and Communication and researching the impact of cutting-edge technologies like blockchain on centuries-old Indigenous culture.
Blockchain is a continuously growing list of records which are linked and secured using cryptography. The technology allows transactions to be recorded in multiple places simultaneously and, despite the absence of a central database, made and tracked sequentially. The transactions are accordingly likened to building blocks.
“I am looking at Indigenous knowledge systems, which underpin and guide Indigenous governance,” Kelleher, a Barada and Gabalbara woman originally from Queensland, said.
“I’ve also got to learn about the processes and protocols that underpin blockchain and other second wave automation technologies that are based on algorithms, data sets and systems.
“How do we avoid intergenerational colonial biases from becoming part of those governance systems?
“How will these systems impact marginalised communities, whose way of life doesn’t fit the dominant cultural paradigm?”
Kelleher was on maternity leave from her State Government communications job when she heard about the unique opportunity and decided to apply.
She had worked as a research assistant for RMIT’s Associate Professor Ellie Rennie in 2013 and had recently been talking to her about doing a PhD.
“I loved my undergraduate media and communication degree. I felt like it was the one area of my life that I really loved even when it was really intense. I just got amazing results as a result of loving it.
“Ellie said to me, `Have a look at this opportunity’. I applied, was successful and now Ellie is my supervisor.
“It’s an amazing opportunity and it’s a great source of motivation.”
The RMIT Indigenous Research Fellowships were launched as part of the University’s commitment to providing career opportunities for Indigenous researchers and research students, and building Indigenous research capacity.
As well as the new pre-doctoral fellows, RMIT has appointed two Vice-Chancellor’s Indigenous Research Fellows who will develop high-quality, high-impact research projects that address challenges within focus areas aligned to RMIT’s Enabling Capability Platforms.
Story: Amelia Harris