Five Questions with Sandy O’Sullivan

In Uncategorised by IndigenousX

Sandy O’Sullivan was Indigenous X host from March 7 to March 14, 2014.

Five questions to Sandy

I’m a Wiradjuri woman, and a senior Aboriginal researcher at Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education in the Northern Territory (though I work from Brisbane).

I came to studies later in life, having left school in my early teens. My studies were in the fields of performance and theatre, and about eight years ago I finished a PhD in art. I’d worked as an artist for many years, something I’m finally getting back into.

In addition to supporting the research areas of Batchelor Institute (education, language and linguistics, and creative arts), I work on two big projects. The first is with the Office for Learning and Teaching, and it’s about supporting people who are doing PhDs and Masters on community topics, in thinking about different ways that they might get their research out there, to make it even more useful for communities. Maybe it’s through video or a website or exhibition, in a book or on the radio. The other project is an Australian Research Council one, and it’s tracking some of the ways that nationally important museum spaces represent us. I’m writing that up as a book right now, and I really hope it improves museum engagement with communities.

I’d like to talk about some of the good work that schools, colleges, and universities are doing across the country. There’s been a lot of recent criticism of Aboriginal people who work in the education system being disconnected from their communities, but what’s often missing from that discussion is the role that schools, colleges, and unis play in making our communities better.

Our younger generation have a right to an education at the top level, but if we tell them by doing that they’re letting down the community, well … what kind of message is that? I think most of us expect that the future will bring us more Aboriginal nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, linguists, business owners, artists, politicians, cultural practitioners, professionals, researchers, but that won’t happen if we don’t commit ourselves to education now.

And just because it’s something I know a bit about, I wouldn’t mind also talking about some of the positive work in the museum sector both here and overseas.

I have a lot of personal role models, including my mum and my family and from within my community.

Just recently I went to the launch of Anita Heiss’ book, Tiddas, a novel that reminds us of the power of close, strong relationships. Heiss also reminded me that often, inspiring people work on their own practice and for their communities. She does an enormous amount of advocacy work in addition to her writing. So do people like Sam Cook – an artist and arts manager –, Jenny Fraser – an artist and curator who sees her role as supporter and agent of change –, Leesa Watego – an educator, designer, business advocate, agitator, – Sandra Phillips and Michelle Evans – both academics and cultural researchers for their communities and communities of practice –, Celeste Liddle – a union worker and social commentator –, and of course Luke Pearson, who has started IndigenousX at enormous personal cost and has done it with the strongest of altruistic intentions.

I see in this mob a balance of contributing to their communities and also ensuring that that they and their families are sustained and able to continue this work. They’re inspiring.

I think it’s difficult to identify a specific issue. Education is important, so is health and community support. But none of these “issues” operate in isolation. I believe strongly that people like me, who have a voice, also have a duty to support others in getting their thoughts and ideas out there – rather than speaking on their behalf. I hope that education is one of the ways that we make this happen.
The last few years have been difficult for a lot of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. We’ve had cuts to services, extreme difficulties caused by draconian laws across our states and territories, and a lot of threats to end services. But I’m seeing a lot of people just refusing to accept these changes, challenging them and fighting. We have a right to great levels of education, health, community support, and success across every field. We elect our governments, and we can change them or challenge them if they aren’t doing the work that we need them to do for us to be successful as a community. Education, whether formal or informal, is a great tool for change, so I admit to pinning a lot of my hopes on that.

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