Issue 3
Monday, 14 March 2016
Charles Darwin University
Professor Simon Maddocks during the smoking ceremony
Professor Simon Maddocks during the smoking ceremony

Vice-Chancellor receives traditional welcome

By Robyn McDougall

Traditional owners from throughout the Northern Territory gathered on Casuarina campus recently to formally welcome Charles Darwin University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simon Maddocks.

Custodians of country where CDU either has campuses and centres, or significant connection with the land, gathered at the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education to provide a ceremonial version of a memorandum of understanding between the Vice-Chancellor and the Aboriginal nations that CDU serves.

The Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership, Professor Steve Larkin, led the welcome, which included a smoking ceremony before Professor Maddocks was presented to regional custodians.

Professor Larkin said that before the arrival of Europeans to Australia, Aboriginal nations had experienced the most extensive reign of peace known in human history.

“To achieve such an extended period of peace, Aboriginal nations practised systems of high diplomacy,” he said.

“This high diplomacy was grounded in the concept of reciprocity, obligation and respect. In its simplest form, reciprocity involves an action of exchange or sharing to the mutual benefit of the parties involved. 

“The concept of reciprocity must guide Aboriginal engagement with universities.”

In his response, Professor Maddocks recalled his childhood growing up in Papua New Guinea where his father was working in a village to integrate western health care delivery in a way that could embrace key Papuan knowledge and cultural practices.

“We were adopted by the Kahanamona clan and I had the most amazing privilege of learning the importance of language, the important stories passed from fathers to sons, from mothers to daughters, in dance, song, and spoken stories, of cultural totems and traditions," Professor Maddocks said.

“I learnt the respect for, and the intimate link to ‘country’ – land and sea, that is as paramount to PNG’s indigenous peoples as it is to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” he said.

Professor Maddocks assured the gathering that CDU would continue to work with Aboriginal people toward a better future for coming generations. 

“I see this vital task as one of collaboration and of negotiation. The thing about respect is that we can agree to disagree on some matters and yet still work together on things that matter most.”

He said that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians should celebrate living in times that were marked by greater respect for the importance of Indigenous knowledge systems and wisdoms linked strongly to people and country.