Australia’s ﬁrst Indigenous Rhodes Scholar
I was the ﬁrst Aboriginal person in my family to complete high school and obtain a university degree. I couldn’t do the anthropological work I am doing now without having undertaken those studies.
I have experienced the power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and have actively pursued its wider recognition. The yearning to see acknowledgement of and respect for this knowledge has fuelled my academic achievements. As a student of anthropology, I frequently encountered literature that was about Indigenous people, but not written by us. Throughout my undergraduate studies, (focusing on Aboriginal Australian research), I was never taught by another Indigenous Australian.
It is important that we now assume the mantle of representing and assessing our own ontology; that we gain an understanding of that which affects our lives, our families, and our way of interpreting; of knowing and viewing the world from an Indigenous perspective. Whilst I became increasingly uneasy about what was written about us, I also became interested in how knowledge is produced and its competing regimes of Aboriginal representation. One of the greatest gifts of my studies has been a better understanding of how the research about other cultures is conducted, how the knowledge that comes from research is produced and the power that research wields to convince and transform.
My studies gave me the opportunity to learn about theories and knowledge used in many disciplines, particularly in psychology and anthropology. This in turn, has given me the conﬁdence and the knowledge to engage in dialogue in academic, government and political environments. My studies have provided opportunities to work in places like South Africa, New York and Washington DC.
I am very passionate about using the knowledge and tools I have gained throughout my studies in the challenge to redraw what is seen as Indigenous knowledge. I also see my work as part of my communal responsibility as an Indigenous woman. I feel that I am positively adding to what will be passed on to the generations that come after us. Ultimately, I hope that my work makes a difference, allowing others to share their stories and allowing our children to learn more positively about their history, heritage and culture.
Reading the 2009 edition of The Indigenous students’ postgraduate guide to scholarships in Australia and overseas changed my life. That guide, like the 2011 undergraduate edition, contains a wealth of information about postgraduate scholarships that are available to us. It opened up a whole world of opportunities that has ultimately ended in my being awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford.
My pathway has taken many unexpected turns but it has always been exciting and fulﬁlling. I hope my story acts as an inspiration for others considering undergraduate and postgraduate study. I strongly encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to consider the rewards of university education and I recommend this Guide as a tool to access your potential.
Rebecca Richards is Australia’s ﬁrst Indigenous Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, 2011