Sharon Davis Excerpt from Speech at the 2014 Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour Reception
Sharon is the first Indigenous Australian from a remote community to graduate from Oxford, and is now the WA State Coordinator for The Aspiration Initiative (TAI) academic enrichment program for high school students (based in Perth).
My name is Sharon, and I am a Bardi Kija woman, a mum of two, a wife, a tidda (sister), an aunty and a daughter. I come from Broome, where I graduated from Notre Dame University with a Bachelor’s degree in education (primary).
I can recall when I sent in my application for the 2012 Study Tour – not really believing that I would be accepted, let alone be offered a place at two of the world’s top universities – I was so nervous. Although I had received good grades, I didn’t believe that I would be accepted on the Tour – and overseas study was merely a pipedream. It was so far removed from my reality of red dirt and blue seas of my country back home.
Had it not been for the Aurora Study Tour, and Richard, there is no way I would have applied for programs at Oxford and NYU. And now, here I am only two years later, with an MSc in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from the University of Oxford. But I couldn’t have done it without the support of the other Indigenous scholars. We’ve built a little community of support, which grew from our culture and a common goal of wanting the best for our mob. With 12 Indigenous Australians enrolled at Oxford and Cambridge this coming academic year, our community is still growing! 2014 Aurora Scholars, we welcome you! We keep each other safe and supported, and help each other through the next part of the journey, so you can come home ready to take on what life decides to throw at you.
Scholars, there is hard work ahead. As Indigenous people, when we achieve in the way we have, we are still the exception – and this in itself is difficult. We are often positioned in a way that places us at risk. To be Black and educated risks our Aboriginality in the eyes of many Australians. For them, to be authentic or truly Aboriginal is to be standing on one leg with a kangaroo over one shoulder, and to have a spear in your other hand. The concept of the “educated Aborigine” is hard to imagine for some. As if becoming educated lessens what it means to be Black in Australia today. This makes it difficult to confidently occupy the position of an educated Aboriginal Australian.
But I refute this idea wholeheartedly. We cannot separate ourselves into educated or Aboriginal. Our Aboriginality is central to who we are and is embedded in all that we do. Rather than inhibiting us, our Aboriginality enables us to achieve the academic heights that we have reached. Some might say about receiving a Charlie Perkins or Roberta Sykes scholarship “why would you take an “Aboriginal” scholarship? Don’t you want to be recognized for your achievement on your own merits?” I say, my Indigeneity underpins all that I do and all that I am. Our Aboriginality is central to our achievements.
When Aboriginal people have been told for years that they are no good and will amount to nothing, I think we sometimes end up believing it. So, I just want to let you know that to doubt yourself is pretty normal. How often have you told yourself so far “There’s no way I could do this, there’s no way I could get into Harvard or Oxford or Stanford”? And although the media, some of the public and even that little voice inside our head tells us this, it simply is not true. Those murmurs are merely the result of the internalisation of dominant western ideologies. You just have to take a look around you. In this room are literally dozens of brilliant Indigenous people who smash that ridiculous idea out of the ballpark.
As someone who has come full circle, I need to tell you: the Study Tour is not all roses. It is bloody hard work. There are times you will feel overwhelmed, exhilarated, nervous, and extremely tired - all rolled up in a mishmash of meetings, events and seminars. It is a whirlwind, but a very valuable one that you will never forget.
Unfortunately, the voice of Indigenous people in Australia is somewhat muted. That’s not to say it is not there: we have deep rumblings, but they are far too often hushed. Australia needs to hear our voice loud and clear. Having a degree from one of these universities is one way that gives us a louder voice. There’s no alternative pathway for Indigenous Australians into places like Oxford or Cambridge, so graduating from one of these places means that there should be NO DOUBT in people’s minds that we can cut it with the rest –and people will listen to us.
So, for me, that’s essentially what this whole experience meant, and I hope that this meaning can begin to develop within you too. I did it to have a better chance at getting my foot in the door towards making real educational change for my People. Not just for the experience. Not for prestige, high teas or Harry Potter dinners. I did it for our kids and our People. For me, this Study Tour, and my subsequent degree was a means to an end. If having ‘Oxon’ after my name gives me a louder voice, I am going to use it to shout down the systemic racism that we face as Indigenous Peoples every day, and I can’t wait for you to join me.
So, in closing, I just want to say, be proud. Enjoy yourself! Work hard. Aim high. Don’t let anyone (not even yourself) make you think you can’t. Because you can. You’ve already proven it.
Congratulations again and welcome to the rest of your journey.