Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Foreword

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Foreword

Article excerpt

I think it fair to say that almost all Indigenous people in Australia who undertake postgraduate research, especially doctorates, are on a personal journey, as well as a scholarly one. Perhaps this is true generally with non-Indigenous people, as well, but I think for us there is an enormous personal investment in the content of our research and not just in the process and commitment involved in completing a research degree. The content is often emotional and attached to our own, or our families', personal histories precisely because we seek to explore issues that have arisen in our experiences of colonialism and which gnaw away at our sense of ourselves or our sense of justice. I have made this journey as a postgraduate researcher, and in this foreword I have been asked to reflect on how I came to the field of research, to offer some observations of Indigenous research and approaches to postgraduate research theses, and to provide some guidance on some of the issues.

As some of you may already know from my writings, I grew up in the Torres Strait Islands. I was one of the first cohorts to go to boarding school early in the '70s because the local school in my community did not have year levels beyond Year 10. Years 11 and 12 came into the Torres Strait much later. Boarding school was a hopeless education experience because I couldn't understand the standard of English used in the classroom and before long I was behind in all my subjects, even though I had been dux of my local high school. It was a pretty shitty year and, like many others, I bailed out and got a job. After school, I worked for 15 years in the Torres Strait and it was not until I was 30 that I returned to study. At the time, I was working as an Education Officer with what is now the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and in this role I really felt the gulf between how we experienced education and how teachers and principals understood or extrapolated from the issues when they dealt with Islander students. So, from my earliest beginnings in university studies, my purpose in getting an education was always to know what the educators knew so that I could find a better way to connect with their logic, and counter their arguments, or make a better case to represent the Islander position, or to highlight the shortfalls in their approaches.

I thought I knew our position because I lived it. I went to schools where the language of instruction was not in my first language. I was involved in education committees at the local level to improve things, and was involved in education at the bureaucratic level. I had first-hand experience with all of this. What I lacked was knowledge about education, learning and teaching, as well as knowledge about the construction of government policies, programs and processes, those elements that framed what could or could not be done in formal education.

It was not long before I was invited into an Honours program in my second year of undergraduate studies by the School of Education, and was fortunate to have supervisors who mentored me in three important ways. First, they micro-edited my assignments to teach me how to write and structure, as well as substantiate and evidence, an argument in English. They did not edit for me before I submitted for assessment--so I didn't get an advantage in that sense. This was all done after marking, and it added to my workload because my end of the bargain was to redo my assignments and read them through as clean copies. Essentially, this is how I, a Creole speaker, learned how to write in English. This was not an easy task for my supervisors, especially around grammar issues. Have you ever tried working with a second language speaker who can't get his verbs right? Nor was I the best learner. In the end they said, 'OK, you write what you think is right, and then do the opposite'.

For a long time I was constantly in the mode of translating or looking for a coherent way to express my views. …

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