Listening with respect
Indigenous Elders play an important role at the University, guiding and nurturing Indigenous staff and students.
Respected Awabakal Elder Aunty Sandra Griffin is a woman whose actions speak louder than words. She is modest about her activities, humble about her needs, full of energy and exceptionally bubbly at 63 years of age.
At the time of interview, Griffin’s week involved doing a Welcome to Country for a Newcastle Knights NRL match; looking after her two young granddaughters (four months and 16 months old); dropping into The Wollotuka Institute; visiting primary and secondary schools; and generally providing inspiration, support and guidance to young Aboriginal people wherever she went.
"To hear someone call me Aunty Sandra makes me very happy," she said. "I love being a blackfella. People here in Newcastle make me feel so proud and they are so respectful of you."
The fact that her own early schooling stopped at the age of 15 makes her sharply aware of the important opportunities the University provides to Indigenous people. Having seen larger numbers of Indigenous students than ever before going through University makes her happy. "The University has accelerated learning for our people and I thank it for that," Griffin said.
She worked for the Awabakal Medical Service and in her later years studied to become the first Aboriginal audiometrist, to be followed later by many others. It was an occupation driven by her daughter’s ear problems, a common health complaint among Indigenous children that has a high correlation with poor educational outcomes.
These days, as an Elder in Residence, she is often visiting the University’s iconic Birabahn building on the Callaghan campus, which was developed in consultation with local community members, including herself. "It is a building we feel comfortable in. We wanted it to look Aboriginal and it does. It is not like any of the other buildings, it is unique on the campus."
Griffin loves being a part of the Aboriginal community at the University, mentoring young people and sometimes teaching. Her role is a special one, representing her nation with Welcomes to Country, yarning with students and staff, and sharing her experiences and wisdom.
Find out more about the University of Newcastle’s Indigenous programs - the most comprehensive in Australia.