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Wollotuka Institute marks 40 Years with celebratory milestone event

Joseph Guenzler -

The University of Newcastle and surrounding communities will mark the 40th anniversary of the esteemed Wollotuka Institute with upcoming celebrations, including a public event and an invitational dinner at the Callaghan Campus, later this month.

Since 1983, the Wollotuka Institute has served as a support center for Indigenous students at the University of Newcastle, evolving into a sector-leading example of Indgienous excellence.

In the Awabakal language, spoken on the land where the Birabahn building now stands, 'Wollotuka' translates to 'eating and meeting place,' embodying a culturally-safe and inclusive space for all.

Associate Professor Kathleen Butler speaking at the Wollotuka Institute. (Image: supplied)

Head of Institute, Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, said the important achievement had not been an overnight success.

"The 40th anniversary is an exciting opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the thousands of First Nations students, graduates, staff and community members that have been part of the Wollotuka Institute and the stories that shaped the formidable legacy it upholds today," Associate Professor Butler said.

"Our success is a reflection of the tireless and dedicated work of trailblazers before us."

Since its inception as a support program for Indigenous students on the Newcastle College of Advanced Education campus, Wollotuka not only withstood institutional changes but flourished as the university evolved, boasting the country's largest Indigenous student enrolments.

The University of Newcastle excels in student recruitment, support, retention, community engagement, and higher degree research.

For Worimi/Wiradjuri man, Jodan Perry, the Institute has been part of his family for three generations.

"It all started with my nan and our matriarch, Colleen Perry, who always instilled in us the value of education, despite not being allowed to study beyond the third grade herself," he said.

"She was, and still is, heavily involved with the Wollotuka Institute, and has received awards here and abroad for her lifelong commitment to Indigenous education.

"My dad, Joe, was also part of Wollotuka for 27 years. I was able to come here to study my communication degree back in 2012 and my sister Gabrielle completed a Bachelor of Medicine in 2017 and is now specialising in Ophthalmology."

Traditional Dancers at the Wollotuka Institute. (Image: supplied)

After a successful 12-year career in broadcast media at NITV, the ABC, Channel 9, and Sky News as a presenter, journalist, and digital executive, Mr. Perry has chosen to continue his family legacy by joining the Wollotuka Institute as a lecturer and researcher this year.

"I wouldn’t have made it through the tertiary system without the support network Wollotuka provides and I’m proud to be part of what has been built here," Mr Perry said. 

The Wollotuka Institute is a cornerstone of the University of Newcastle, Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Alex Zelinsky AO added.

"The University of Newcastle is proud of the continued and unwavering efforts of the Wollotuka Institute over the past 40 years which has driven our success in Indigenous higher education, innovation and engagement," Professor Zelinsky said.  

"Universities must do more than help First Nations students find their place at University - we also have a responsibility to provide a culturally-safe environment that supports students to succeed in their studies.

"We are committed to providing nurturing environments and providing more pathways for success. We will build on our past achievements to create bigger and wider partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of our regions and beyond."

The celebration is scheduled for Thursday, 23 November 2023, at the Birabahn Building. 

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