Aunty Mae Robinson
My name is Aunty Mae Robinson, and I am descended from the Yuin and Kamilaroi people. I am a long-time resident of Mount Pritchard where I live with my husband John.
In the early 1980s, as a mature aged student and mother I became the first Aboriginal to graduate from the School of Education at the Milperra College of Advanced Education (now Bankstown campus of the University of Western Sydney). After I graduated I went on to teach in primary schools and was appointed to Education Officer and consultancy roles with the NSW Department of Education and Training
Since 'retiring' I have continued to consult with local Aboriginal communities and am an advocate for the value of education. I have been recognised for my contributions to the education and the wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples having received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from UWS (2011); Citizen of the Year, Fairfield City Council (2013); UWS Community Award (2012) and UWS Woman of the West Award (2010).
I won a Commonwealth bursary, a Koori girl on a bursary, and yet they took me away from mum.
Burnt Bridge was a place of change for Aboriginal people around the whole of Macleay Valley because people like my Mum and all the ladies at Burnt Bridge formed their own version of the CWA in opposition to the established Country Women's Association in town. We had Burnt Bridge Marching Girls Association and we used to go to those sorts of things and we competed. It was a place where people started to change for the better.
Country towns could be very racist places and we weren't allowed to go to the swimming pool. These were the sort of things that we had to put up with. If you went to the movies there you got roped off down the front. So the CWA Aboriginal women at Burnt Bridge organised our own movie shows in our own hall and all the Aboriginal people in the area came. That's when they realised in Kempsey that we not only paid a lot of money to see movies we also spent money on food and chips. Within the month, they dropped the rope, they dropped that big Abo line, right down. The power of the women and men who were in those committees, their courage and cleverness in what they did, was great. All of a sudden, the Kempsey movie theatre, and lots of other places realised we wouldn't be treated like that anymore.
I really did like learning. It was just something that I liked doing.
I was watching television one day and I saw a mature age student graduating from Sydney Uni. I always wanted to be a teacher, so the next day I said to my husband, "I want to be a teacher. You'll have to look after the family, I want to go studying." So that's what I did. I went to Milperra CAE, which is now the University of Western Sydney Bankstown campus, and I graduated as a primary trained teacher. I was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from Milperra College. Dr David Barr, who was then the principal of the CAE, sent me a letter and invited me to be on council of the Milperra CAE, which was the beginning of my long association with the University.
Years ago when I was in primary school at Burnt Bridge I asked this teacher, "Can Aboriginal people be teachers?" He said, "Why are you asking?" I said, "Well, I wouldn't mind being one." He just turned around to me and he said, "Mavis, you can do whatever you like." It was so important to me that I had a teacher who can be honest with you. A lot of young Aboriginal men and women who left Burnt Bridge went onto bigger and better things. Some of them have become solicitors, some of them have become lecturers. They just knew that there was something out there, and I still put it down to the teachers. I just find that you have to be an agent of change. I'm not only an Aboriginal person, I'm a female Aboriginal person who has been an agent of change because I believe we need to realise all those potentials in people. Women can change things when they need to.
I have been able to hold positions with the Department of Education, been an Aboriginal education consultant, consultant with disadvantaged schools, consultant in multicultural education. I have helped develop the Aboriginal education policy.
That's what I like about what University of Western Sydney is doing, what Melissa is doing, bringing the knowledge of Aboriginal people to the learning space, to the university. I'm not only carrying my knowledge but also carrying who I am, and I'm proud of that.