Can you please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Gumbaynggirr fella from Nambucca Heads, from the Donovan’s from the North Coast (also the same mob from the South Coast). I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, I always say I’m an urban black fella. My wife’s a Cessnock girl, so when we moved to Newcastle, we were closer to her home for a while. I just loved Newcastle, it’s a really beautiful place.

Where were you before Macquarie?

All of my Higher Education background was at the University of Newcastle. I worked in the Wollotuka Institute, and was there for 22 years. I kind of stumbled in, they needed someone for 12 months, and I covered in, did some teaching and kept winning contracts. There was a restructure at the school and I realise now that I was there too long.

Some old colleagues had mentioned a few things happening out here at Macquarie and I went to visit a few other places, but Macquarie fitted me better. In my 4 weeks at Macquarie, I’ve seen a lot in a very positive and really wonderful things.

Did you teach at the University of Newcastle?

I started in education working as an AEA (an Aboriginal Education Assistant, a middle man between the community and the school), whilst studying to get a teaching degree. I was very fortunate that the principal of the school wanted to have some Aboriginal Studies taught and I did my teaching degree like an apprenticeship. I was originally a primary school teacher, so had teaching experience and I started to teach in their education program including their newly developed Aboriginal Studies degree and their bridging program. I thought university was just about teaching, so I did lots of teaching in my first 10 years until someone told me university is more about research, so I started up my PhD, won an ARC grant that year and went into research as well as teaching.

What was/is your research area?

My PhD started examining the Quality Teaching Model (QT) and its engagement with Aboriginal students. QT is a pedagogical framework developed out of the University of Newcastle about good teaching practice. The best thing about the framework is that it’s a wonderful evaluation tool of teaching practice. You can walk into a friend’s classroom, be it an early childhood setting or a higher education institution, you can look at what they’re doing and evaluate it against a scale. But I found most of my research direction was focussing on the significance of cultural knowledge for Aboriginal students in schools.

That lead me to asking Aboriginal school-age secondary students what they believed was best for them in relation to school, teachers and the curriculum. Asking Aboriginal students their opinion over the educational experts’ views hadn’t really been effectively done before.

What will you be aiming to do at Macquarie?

One of the great new things coming out of the new Curriculum Architecture, apart from a nice and clean structure for students (it’s definitely student-centred), they’ve introduced that Indigenous and Sustainability (based on the UN’s sustainability goals) knowledges and understandings will be embedded across core areas for every student. So, every student (both domestic and international) who steps through this university will come out with some understanding of Indigenous knowledges and the UN’s sustainability goals and they’ll take that into their field. So they’re very beautiful knowledge understandings and so when the graduates step out into the real world, be it as an engineer, a teacher or an allied health professional, they can step into the world with some understanding so that

when they come face-to-face with the Aboriginal community, they can say “well yes, I can somehow understand how to work in partnership with that community to achieve our goals”.

What will embedding Indigenous knowledges into the curriculum practically look like?

I’ve just introduced myself to the Associate Deans, Learning and Teaching and some have already thought about the processes and have already established small teams to start looking at how Indigenous knowledges can be embedded across different courses. I’ve met with other individuals who had an interest in it and have started doing some work on these understandings. I’ve seen some wonderful ideas and models already, so hopefully I’ll be able to share these models with other members across the university to work out how we can start blending this in and work more efficiently on embedding Indigenous understandings. Mehmet Mahmut from Psychology is really engaged with the process and has already done lots of work over the last couple of years; he did an audit for the Department, asking all the program and unit coordinators about what Aboriginal perspectives were currently in each of their units. He said, “if you’ve got nothing to say, say that, and we’ll start from there”. So, this idea of a unit audit was a great starting point and would be a great starting point for most courses. In Law, they have a small working group, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff and students, coming together to discuss ways we can embed Indigenous understandings and case studies across their courses.

I’m more than happy to work with those groups, giving them my perspectives of how it can be embedded or direct them towards people who can support them. One of the benefits I have, having been a primary school teacher, I’ve had to teach everything, so I have a really good understanding about pedagogy: that’s what my thesis was all about. I don’t know everything, but I have knowledge about where it can be found and gauged across other processes, so if I don’t know something, I’m more than happy to talk to someone else to help develop content or understandings.

How does this fit within the Curriculum Architecture?

Over the next year, before the new Curriculum Architecture engages in 2020, all faculties and courses will come up with their model of how their structure will look, not just whole courses, but Core Zones and Flexible Zones and how it will all work together. So that should be starting as of now.

The Senior Executive believe it would be most valuable for the Indigenous and Sustainability knowledges to sit somewhere within the Core Zone of the course structure and I believe that’s the best place to put it.

But again, this will be much easier in some course than others, but hopefully with some thought we’ll be able to do that for all courses.

The intent is to have 150 hours of understandings content (10 cp – the equivalent of 1 course unit) but it doesn’t have to all be in 1 unit, it can be split across a variety of courses. It could be a few lectures in one unit, and a few lectures in another unit and linking these understandings to assessment outcomes.

So to clarify, the work over the next year is for the faculties to work out what that 150 hours will be for each course?

There needs to be a minimum of 150 hours blended within a course. So, it should be a whole-Department discussion on what their courses will look like, what the Core and Flexible Zones will look like and how content can fit here, here or here. Departments could discuss if they don’t have enough content, maybe they could adopt units from other courses, or incorporate a unit in the Department of Indigenous studies within their course. There’s a whole variety of options.

For those who would say, isn’t it too late for this, as we’re designing the courses now before December, what would you say?

This stage is just deciding on what the courses will look like, and then over the next year we can go into the detail of the unit level. We’ll be trying to engage unit objectives to some Indigenous understandings and blend content into courses (with a focus on Core Zones) so all students will have the opportunity to experience these knowledges systems designed in relation to the students’ chosen fields and career opportunities.

The work on the learning outcomes is happening currently, do these need to be stated in the learning outcomes?

The Indigenous understandings fit within the graduate capabilities and you can blend these across a variety of the capabilities. Currently there is no one model to work off, because different fields and areas of expertise will have different focal points and in some areas the content blending will be much easier than others. So, it’s going to be a very interesting learning curve. Look, the time frame is really short, so when people realise how short it is, hopefully there will be lots of work done very quickly to achieve this significant goal that has been established as part of the Macquarie Curriculum Architecture.

Did you do work similar to this at Newcastle?

Yes and no. I’ve sat on a variety of review and advisory bodies, I’m a life member of the NSW AECG (Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, the primary advisory council for education, from primary to Higher Ed) and as part of that I’ve sat on the Aboriginal education advisory board at the Board of Studies, and a few Board Curriculum Committees. Like many academics I have reviewed journal submissions and conference abstracts, I have participated in 3 external review committees for programs at the University of Newcastle and I am also a detailed assessor on ARC Discovery and Linkage grants.

At the University of Newcastle, I’ve spent 18 years teaching a mandatory program for education students on engaging Aboriginal students and implementing Aboriginal perspectives. Since 1997 at UoN, all education students (early childhood through to secondary) had to complete a mandatory Aboriginal studies program. In 2012 the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) mandated that all university education programs must have an Aboriginal studies understanding in their courses, as part of the National Standard of Teaching.

I’ve spent 18 years trying to inform every education student, across all key learning areas, that there’s ways of embedding Aboriginal understandings within any of their areas of expertise.

And I’ll say very bluntly, teaching at school level or in higher education is very similar, but saying this to some academics, they think, well no, it’s higher knowledge in higher education. While there is certainly a cognitive difference, there is not a lot of difference in knowledge, from a new born to an adult. It has to suit the learners goals, but it is about learning, understanding and respect. Teaching any knowledge also carries the values of the knowledge system including the values of our society or the community it is coming from. The knowledge that our graduates will carry post-university into their careers will include Indigenous and Sustainability knowledges and understandings that will benefit our whole society, as they blend these values and understandings into their lives.

How will you be conducting your consultation process?

As mentioned I’ve already introduced myself to the Associate Deans Learning and Teaching and there are already champions across the university that I’m trying to make contact with to have a chat. I’ve met with the Sustainability team and we’re trying to plan out how we can work together, as we are two different parts of the Macquarie Curriculum Architecture but there are lots of similarities.

All staff, including professional staff, will have to be included at some point, so having some level of understanding across all areas is really important. I’ll go and observe the work Phil Duncan is doing with the Manawari Discover New Knowledge Cultural Safety Training, so I can have that knowledge of current structures and how this all crosses over within Macquarie.

What inspires you about the work you do?

A couple of things, I am a member of the world’s longest continuous, sustainable culture, that has been here in Australia for 100 thousand years. This is something that all Australians should acknowledge and celebrate.

Also, it’s about family. The reason why I have worked with teachers is because these people will be talking to my children, my family, my communities and I have an absolute vested interest in educators doing the best they can when it comes to engaging with Aboriginal students, peoples and communities and informing Australian society about Aboriginal Australia.

So, I have an absolute vested interest. It’s part of who I am, part of my family and culture. So, it’s very important to me.


Please contact Michael to start the conversation. We don’t have long to complete this by 2020, so he’d appreciate it if the community can be pro-active and collaborative in this work.

Posted by Geraldine Timmins

I was Community and Engagement Lead for the Learning Innovation Hub from January 2017 - October 2018 and Teche Editor during that time.

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