Newspaper article Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)

Celebrating an Extraordinary Life

Newspaper article Daily Examiner (Grafton, Australia)

Celebrating an Extraordinary Life

Article excerpt

FROM her time as a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Navy to becoming the first Aboriginal graduate of an Australian University, South Grafton woman Dr Margaret Weir lived a truly extraordinary life.

A proud Malera/Bundjalung woman, Dr Weir's (nee Williams) family hailed from the Baryulgil region.

She was the youngest child in a large family, and made the most of her limited opportunities by doing well at school, graduating from Casino High School in 1956 at the age of 17.

In doing so, Margaret, fondly known as Margo, shared honours with Western Australian man Geoffrey Penny, by becoming the first Aboriginal person to matriculate to an Australian University.

But there were many more landmark achievements to follow.

In January 1957 the University of Queensland offered her a scholarship and she commenced an arts degree before transferring to the University of Melbourne after just one semester, where she enrolled in a Diploma of Physical Education.

According to the University of Melbourne, she was much happier with this course of study and thrived in Melbourne, where she could "feel the energy and the wisdom".

Her tuition scholarship was transferable and she was also offered a scholarship to stay at University Women's College, where she '"learned how the other half lived and how power operates".

She completed her diploma in 1959, becoming the first Aboriginal person to graduate from an Australian university.

The achievement was even more remarkable given the fact she graduated before Aboriginal Australians were afforded civil rights on the same basis as other Australians.

An article in The Encyclopedia of Women & Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia said from the moment Dr Weir enrolled at university, she knew she was trailblazing.

"I knew I was opening a door for others and had to finish because," she said, "if I failed, white people would say they gave a black person an opportunity but what's the point?"

She went on to complete a Bachelor of Education, a Research Master's degree (with Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy.

Addressing a University of Melbourne reunion last year, the alumna had some encouraging words.

"It took me until I was 61 to complete my PhD," she said.

"So I can say to you all, and please believe me - it's never too late to realise your dreams."

Between 1960-82, Dr Weir taught in primary, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions in Australia, Britain and Canada, where she met her husband.

She has also served three years as a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Throughout her career, the Bundjalung woman has been a passionate advocate for Aboriginal rights and participation, and has contributed to government policy on indigenous education initiatives. …

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