Mathematics and biology, public policy and cyber security – presenting the 2015 Charlie Perkins Scholars
Thursday 27 August 2015
On Wednesday, 18 August the Charlie Perkins Scholarships Trust honoured the recipients of the 2015 Charlie Perkins Scholarships at a ceremony hosted by the British High Commissioner in Canberra. This year’s recipients are Jared Field (University of Sydney), Aurora Milroy (University of Western Australia), and Kristopher Wilson (Flinders University and University of New South Wales).
In her warm welcome to Country, Ngunnawal Elder Jannette Phillips expressed her joy at the Scholars’ success:
“We’ve come such a long way. We’ve still got a bit of a way to go, but we’re getting there.”
The Scholarship was established in 2009, in memory of Aboriginal leader and activist Dr Charlie Perkins AO. Dr Perkins was inspired to attend Sydney University after playing soccer at Oxford University in the 1960s, and went on to become the first Indigenous Australian man to graduate from university. The Perkins family and the Charlie Perkins Scholarships Trust were represented at the event by Charlie Perkins’s son, Adam Perkins, and his family.
Five years ago there had never been an Indigenous Australian studying for a full-time degree at either Oxford or Cambridge (consistently ranked among the top 5 universities in the world). Since 2010, 28 Indigenous postgraduates have been accepted to Oxford and Cambridge. Of these, 10 have graduated in the last 2 years and the rest are on track to do so.
The Scholarship is valued at over $75,000 per annum for up to three years and is jointly supported by: the Australian Government, the British Government (through the Chevening Scholarship Program), the Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust, Cambridge Australia Scholarships, the University of Oxford, the Pratt Foundation, Justice John Basten, the McCusker Foundation, and the University of Canberra.
The Scholarships were awarded by British High Commissioner, Her Excellency Mrs Menna Rawlings CMG, who was visibly struck by her conversations with Jared and Aurora:
“I’ve spent the day with these two - I have to say they are very impressive.”
The Honourable Alan Tudge, Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, congratulated the Scholars, recognising them as “outstanding ambassadors, not just for Indigenous Australia, but for Australia more generally”.
Jared Field received First Class Honours in Advanced Mathematics at the University of Sydney, and has been accepted into the Doctoral Training Program in Systems Biology at the University of Oxford.
Aurora Milroy received First Class Honours in both her Bachelor of Arts (History) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Western Australia, and has been accepted to undertake a Master of Public Policy at the University of Oxford.
Kristopher Wilson completed his Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from Flinders University, and Master of Laws (Media and Technology) from the University of New South Wales. He is currently completing his first year of a DPhil in Cyber Security (Law) at the University of Oxford and so was unable to be at the ceremony.
During the ceremony both Jared and Aurora shared their personal experiences of creating a pathway to university and of the challenges they overcame along the way.
Both students conveyed the importance of their success in the context of their families, communities and the positive future of Australia.
“When I was in year 10, I was given the option of moving up to the advanced maths class. I was told however by my then current teacher that I would struggle. The same old story -- Aborigines, of course, excel at sport not mathematics. I’m sure every Indigenous person in this room has a similar such story. And yet now I’m going to Oxford to do my doctorate in mathematics and biology.
"To have seen other people like me absolutely excelling at academia would have made me just that little more confident and that little more sure that I could do it too. I hope that, if there are any other students out there now who are in a similar situation, my getting this scholarship to study mathematics similarly makes them more certain of themselves and their abilities.”
“For my mum’s generation there was still stigma attached to being Aboriginal but she had a lot more opportunities- she was the first generation in my family to attend university. And now she works there, as Dean of the School of Indigenous Studies at UWA. The school helps Aboriginal students complete higher education, and I am proud to be among those, I finished my history and law studies there last year.
“So, if we work hard, we can achieve amazing change in only a relatively short time. For my family and for the rest of the Aboriginal community I want to transform our history of disadvantage into a future of opportunity. I want to shape laws and policies that support Aboriginal human rights and self-determination rather than control. To achieve this goal, I am studying the Master of Public Policy at Oxford University. This course brings together people from all over the world, with many different backgrounds and stories. It will give me a greater insight into areas like social, legal and environmental policy, and equip me the practical skills to build a positive future in Australia.”