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Talking Strong by Macquarie’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Dr Leanne Holt


Dr Leanne Holt, Worimi and Biripai woman and Macquarie University ’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) has a new book, Talking Strong. Her book highlights the National Aboriginal Education Committee’s journey in changing Aboriginal education for the better.

​​What is the main thing you want readers to take away from this book?

Talking strong provides future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous educators with access to the important historical and political contexts that can inform future practice and relationships. The book is based on the journeys of the National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC) about the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education policy – from early childhood through to higher education. The book is set in the ‘70s and ‘80s which was a pinnacle time in the history of First Nations education in Australia and sets out how these foundational actions contributed to First Nations education today. It shares the experiences and insights of the First Nations scholars and leaders providing an awareness of past successes and challenges in the education of First Nations people at all levels of education. The voices of these First Nations leaders share and record a journey that will provide knowledge to future generations, inspiring the continuation of the enhancement and development of self-determination individually and as a community through education for First Nations peoples. It details the importance of the passion and expertise of educators and leaders to provide mentorship and hope for future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities through education.

I really enjoyed writing the book as it tells such a positive story in relation to connecting First Nations communities into a national agenda; strong bipartisan relationships with governments; and the creation of excitement that access to education at all levels would provide a chance at a better future for First Nations peoples and communities. One of my favourite parts of the book are the stories shared by the members of the NAEC about future advice for the next generation of educators and leaders, as well as memorable moments reflecting themes of self-empowerment, humour, leadership, personal achievement, challenges, and most importantly relationships.

Can you tell us what you admire most about The National Aboriginal Education Committee?

The NAEC members inspire me. They created opportunities for access to education which led to employment and self-determination. Their leadership demonstrated to First Nations people and communities the possibility of achieving professional status as educators and leaders. The provision of role models for the next generation was an important part of the NAEC’s success. The networks that were established through the NAEC forums, meetings and the establishment of AECGs provided an enduring platform for a collective vision to put those possibilities into action.

The NAEC members were mostly very young and early in their careers. The members were assigned a huge responsibility and unprecedented access to senior government officials and ministers in the portfolios of Education and Aboriginal Affairs. The history of the four terms and knowledge produced by the members had such a significant impact on the access to First Nations education that we continue today to build on their legacy.

The stories told by members of the NAEC demonstrate the level of scholarship and expertise contributed to not just First Nations education but Australian education and society more broadly. Their stories exemplify Aboriginal people’s commitment to and passion for education, the sacrifices made, the relationships forged, and the ongoing striving for excellence through compassion and personal dedication aimed at ensuring a better future for First Nations peoples. It is ever so important that we never forget the past contributions of our leaders and ancestors as without knowing our past, we cannot truly define our futures.


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