Media release: The University of Melbourne honours Australia’s first Aboriginal university graduate
The University of Melbourne is celebrating the achievements of alumna, Aboriginal advocate Dr Margaret Williams-Weir with the naming of a prestigious fellowship and a valued student space in her honour.
Dr Williams-Weir is a member of the Malera/Bandjalang People in northern New South Wales. She is the first recorded Aboriginal person to enrol in a university course in Australia, the first Aboriginal graduate of the University of Melbourne and the first Aboriginal graduate of any Australian university.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis announced that a new position, the Dr Margaret Williams-Weir Vice-Chancellor's Fellow of the University of Melbourne, would be created from 2015 to honour the historic contributions of Dr Williams-Weir.
"I'm pleased to announce that respected Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson will be the inaugural Dr Margaret Williams-Weir Vice-Chancellor's Fellow of the University of Melbourne," Professor Davis said.
Professor Davis also announced the naming of the postgraduate students' lounge in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education as the 'Dr Margaret Williams-Weir Lounge'.
"The University community is delighted to honour the life, community involvement and considerable achievements of Dr Williams-Weir," Professor Davis said.
In 1959, Dr Williams-Weir became the first recorded Aboriginal graduate in Australia, completing a Diploma in Physical Education from the University of Melbourne. She went on to complete three more degrees, including a PhD.
"Dr Williams-Weir is a role model for the kind of ambition we seek to inspire in our students," said Professor Davis.
Dr Williams-Weir's niece Melissa Williams said that the celebrations had touched Dr Williams-Weir.
"Aunty Margo is very pleased that the University is naming the fellowship and the postgraduate student lounge in her honour. The whole family is touched by this tribute. We are proud to know that a space in her name will be utilised by students following in her footprints. It is a lasting symbol of her role as an educator – her enduring concern is for future generations," said Ms Williams.
Dr Williams-Weir has led a diverse career spanning 47 years including research and teaching in Australia and overseas. Throughout her career Dr Williams-Weir has been a passionate advocate for Aboriginal rights and participation.
About Dr Margaret Williams-Weir
Dr Margaret Williams-Weir made history in 1957 when she defied the odds to enrol in a course at an Australian university. She became the first Aboriginal graduate of the University of Melbourne and of any Australian university.
Her achievements are even more remarkable given the era during which she graduated, before Aboriginal Australians were afforded civil rights on the same basis as other Australians.
Dr Williams-Weir received her Diploma of Physical Education from the University of Melbourne in 1959 and later completed a Bachelor of Education, a Research Master's degree (with Honours) and a Doctor of Philosophy.
Dr Williams-Weir taught in primary, secondary and post-secondary educational institutions in Australia, Britain and Canada between 1960-1982.
She had a broad career outside of the classroom, including three years as a commissioned officer in the Royal Canadian Navy.
Dr Williams-Weir was also the first Aboriginal person to be employed by a national union, having worked as an Aboriginal Education Coordinator for the Australian Teachers' Federation (now the Australian Education Union).
A leader in Aboriginal education and research, Dr Williams-Weir consulted on projects of national significance, including three reviews of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy and the Australian Government's Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children project.