Occasional address delivered by Murdoch University Honorary Doctorate recipient Dr Mara West on September 22, 2023.
I stand before you today as a proud Yamatji woman with ties to the Malgana, Nhanda and Yingaarda peoples. I’d like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the beautiful country of the Whadjuk Noongar people and I pay respects to Elders both past and present. I’d like to acknowledge those who have gone before me and have paved the way for me and those coming after me for whom I hope I will leave some great footprints.
I’d like to acknowledge all the other Aboriginal people in the room especially my three Sons, Brett, Clinton and Lee, the families of Brett and Clinton and my big Sister Joyce who has flown down from Tom Price to join me here tonight and my long-time friend Felicity.
I’d like to acknowledge the Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, graduating students, all families and friends.
It’s a great honour for me to be standing here this evening and I stand here with mixed feelings as I remember what was, what is and what could be.
I was born on the banks of the Gascoyne River at a time when Aboriginal people were classified under the “flora and fauna act”. My Mother wasn’t allowed into the local hospital due to the very fact that she was Aboriginal. I spent my early years as a barefoot Aboriginal kid wearing hand me downs, living on the periphery of town where apartheid was alive and well. This humble beginning paved the way to a life of poverty, hardship, segregation, racism and disadvantage.
But my Mother, a very strong, very smart, very proud Aboriginal woman had other ideas for me and my siblings. She wanted us to get the white man’s education as she knew this was the first step to a better life. She couldn’t send us to school and besides she was powerless against the white system that really didn’t want to deal with the Aboriginal problem. This was exacerbated by the fact that my parents worked on a station so we were placed in the
Carnarvon Native Mission that was run by the Churches of Christ. It’s funny how life throws you many curved balls as religion wasn’t in my mind map. Attending church and Sunday school were interesting experiences and being told that god sees and hears everything only balked me for a second. This was a challenge for me or as they say like a red rag to a bull. Needless to say I wasn’t a very good little Christian girl as my head was so full of everything else. I soon learned that this was another bump in the road on my journey of learning. This marked the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning and as they say from little things, big things grow.
I walk in two worlds and every day is a challenge as there are moments of uncertainty but there are moments of pure joy. There is no time to dwell on the should a, would a, could a. Life will throw many curved balls your way and your very survival, both mentally and physically will depend on how you handle the challenge. I made a decision early in my life that I would face every challenge head on and each would contribute to my learning. I found that every cloud doesn’t have a silver lining and many times you will find yourself working extremely hard to create that silver lining but when you do it becomes a moment of pure serendipity.
My serendipitous moment came when I met my husband. A man who was handsome, highly intelligent and who was a walking encyclopaedia and dictionary who changed my life and contributed in so many ways to my learning journey. He became part of my journey and we explored life and all the bumps in the roads we travelled on. It was an amazing partnership that lasted over 50 years. It was during this time that I met and walked with so many amazing people from all walks of life. I made it my business to surround myself with people from whom I could learn from writing well in plain English to knowing how to change a tyre or skin a sheep or just sewing a button on a shirt.
I share my story with you to let you know that nothing is impossible. You have completed your studies and are now ready to embark on a journey that will lead you to who knows where. Always remember you are not an expert as each experience has many parts and it takes many people to put the pieces together. As my friend Minitja says: Everyone worked together as a team, different people are good at different things. Sharing knowledge together, talking together, sharing ideas. For people to make a good decision they need to hear a clear story. To hear and understand a clear story people need information given in a way that makes them feel good.
We live in interesting times where the world and our environment is rapidly changing. Have the courage and passion to be a great thinker and visionary change maker committed to developing creative solutions that will address the social, economic and political issues facing us like climate change, the reconciliation journey between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and the Voice to Parliament. As global citizens and graduates of Murdoch University you have the power to be change agents.
I’m not going to say too much about the Voice to Parliament as I think that is part of your journey and the decision on a yes or no vote is yours to make. I would however advise that if you are not sure about it then ask people around you or do some research.
I want to challenge your thinking, What’s your vision for Australia tomorrow. We live in one of the best countries in the world but what sort of Australia do we want for our children and their children. Climate change is affecting our communities now. Do we consider climate change in isolation from all the other issues or do we look at the whole story and work together to find solutions. Is it a united, inclusive society where everyone has a voice and is treated with respect and dignity that we want and if it is then what do we need to do to get there. The journey is going to be long and fraught with many challenges, some will be like jumping small puddles but others will be like jumping a tall building in a single bound. Are you up for the challenge? I suggest that you are as you are graduates of Murdoch University and the knowledge and skills that you have gained on your learning journey will be with you forever. Many of you will be working in areas that will challenge your thinking and your ideas.
- Be yourself and be proud of who you are;
- Think outside the square and be creative;
- Always face challenges head on and never give up;
- Surround yourself with great thinkers and visionaries;
- Carpe diem or Seize the day;
- Grab hold of every opportunity that comes your way;
- Be patient and flexible;
- Always take advice but filter the bad from the good;
- Look after you and your mental health and wellbeing;
- Nothing is impossible, this is only a state of mind.
I congratulate all the graduates. You should be proud of yourselves. You have done Murdoch proud and you have done your families and friends proud. You are leaving the sanctity of the University and will face many challenges but always remember you are a graduate of Murdoch University. I feel very privileged to be amongst so much talent. I wish you well in your future endeavours.
It is a great honour to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate by my Alma Mater, Murdoch University. Murdoch was part of my learning journey and I was the fourth Aboriginal graduate from the University. I remember my days at Murdoch with fondness and I feel that I haven’t left Murdoch as the link is still there and grows stronger as I get older.
I know there have been quite a few people who have suggested me for the award and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I also thank Murdoch University for having the foresight to honour me this way. This acknowledges my place in the world and the contributions I have made over the last forty years both in the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal world.
Let’s walk together to create a better tomorrow for all Australians.