Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Indigenous Engagement


This year we have joint winners of the Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Indigenous Engagement.  Both recipients have demonstrated a tireless commitment to working closely with Aboriginal research collaborators and encouraging their students to recognise the importance of such engagement.  The committee was unable to separate these two nominees, and there was unanimous agreement that the unusual step of making a joint award should be taken.


The first recipient this year is:

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts undertakes research with a number of Aboriginal communities along on the River Murray in South Australia.  As well as academic publications, Amy’s research has generated significant outcomes for the communities, including: funding for interpretive materials (including signage, promotional brochures, booklets etc.) to support cultural tourism ventures; funding for community members to attend national and international conferences to support their capacity building initiatives; funding for community members to take part in heritage projects; assistance with native title claims; and the production of numerous co-authored publications.

Tauto Sansbury, Chairperson of the Narungga Aboriginal Corporation, says of Amy:

“She is most respectful of Aboriginal people and culture and has a sound understanding of protocol when working with Aboriginal people. In addition her manner makes her very easy to get along with, which helps to achieve positive outcomes. A recent example of Amy’s work with Narungga people is in her joint curating of the “Children, boats and hidden histories: crayon drawings by Aboriginal children at Point Pearce Mission (SA) 1939” exhibition at the Port Adelaide Maritime Museum.  The exhibition was highly successful, and involved liaison with the two Narungga Elders Mr Fred Graham, Snr and Mr Clem O’Loughlin, whose drawings featured in the exhibition, and with the families of those who have passed away, to gain permission to exhibit the drawings done by their family members”.

Amy has encouraged her students to emulate her engagement philosophy.  Her students have benefitted from a rock art field school held at Ngaut Ngaut (Devon Downs).  Integral to the learning experience at the field school was the opportunity for students to work with the Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Incorporated (MACAI).  This opportunity provided students with a model for ethical and professional behaviour when working with Indigenous communities.  Amy worked collaboratively with MACAI to ensure that the field school included the demonstration of the importance of respect for traditional and contemporary Aboriginal perspectives on heritage interpretation.

Amy requires her research students to contribute to a newsletter, thereby ensuring that the Aboriginal communities along the River Murray are informed of the research projects she supervises.  Amy also insists that the outcomes of research are given back to communities in appropriate formats, such as posters and community reports.

I will leave the final word on Amy to Isobelle Campbell, Chairperson of MACAI, who says “Working with Amy on our projects at Ngaut Ngaut has been a really great thing for our community. She has sourced funding for infrastructure and community development. The interpretive booklets we wrote together are sold for community profit and she has worked to get us training and to national and international conferences. We do everything together including articles, presentations and field schools. We learn from each other. She is the most deserving person for this award and her efforts should be recognised.”

Congratulations, Amy, on being the recipient of the 2014 Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Community Engagement.


The second recipient of the Bruce Veitch Award (with the order in which the awards have been announced being purely alphabetical) is:

Sean Ulm

Sean Ulm has worked with Indigenous peoples ever since his undergraduate days at The University of Queensland.  Sean joined the UQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit in 1993 and even as an undergraduate student instituted a number of initiatives to encourage Indigenous student recruitment and to mentor these students through their studies.  As a result of Sean’s initiatives, Indigenous student retention rates, and consequent Indigenous student graduations, increased.

Nathan Woolford was a student at UQ who benefitted from Sean’s mentorship.  He says: “As a young Murri, a Gooreng Gooreng man, a student, it was a new experience for me to be invited out to my country to assist with Gooreng Gooreng Cultural Heritage Project. I was one among many, but Sean took the time to engage me, to teach me, to be respectful and mindful of my position. I do not know anyone who is as giving as Sean, and the time and effort he gave to me is exemplary of how I have seen him treat all who have the good fortune to work with him.”

Sean joined the Unit’s research project with the Gooreng Gooreng community and mentored the hundreds of student volunteers in that project in appropriate ways in which to work with Traditional Owners, including the importance of showing respect for Aboriginal ways of knowing, even when such knowledge may have been confronting for those trained in scientific approaches to the past.

Former Director of the UQ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit and Gooreng Gooreng Elder, Dr Michael Williams, says of Sean: “Sean is passionate about working with Indigenous communities. His success in establishing meaningful collaborations and research relationships with Aboriginal communities is a particular mark of his research. He has worked closely with Indigenous communities and colleagues to implement best‐practice research models in these projects, involving close collaboration to identify community research priorities and to develop structures to facilitate co‐management of the design, management, execution and reporting of research while at the same time protecting Indigenous knowledge and intellectual property”.

In Sean’s final years at UQ, and throughout his time at JCU, Sean has undertaken research with Wellesley Island communities in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria.  This research has involved a diverse team of researchers and students and Sean has insisted that all researchers engage with the Traditional Owners of the land on which the research is conducted.  He has provided guidance to students and to researchers from other disciplines for whom Indigenous engagement is a novel and soemtimes demanding methodology, and has provided mentoring to those for whom such engagement is challenging.  For example, Dr Craig Sloss says “Sean’s communication with local Indigenous communities was not only inspirational but also provided an excellent template for future research engagement.  There is no question that the example Sean has set will be carried into all aspects of my research whether archaeologically or geologically oriented”.

Sean has brought to his Wellesley research all the moral standards of Indigenous engagement that he developed during his undergraduate years in the Unit, through his post-graduate studies, and into his senior academic life.  He presents his research results to the community in a form they can understand; he collaborates respectfully to ensure research questions of relevance to the community are addressed; and he has trusted his family to the care of the people with whom he works. In this way, Sean has been more than just an archaeologist bringing students to a remote area and conducting research.  He has been a friend and family member.

Christopher Loogatha, Chairman of the Kaladilt Corporation and land Trust, says: “On their first year of research in the Wellesley Islands the community requested that Sean and his team bring their families on future visits up to us, having family around was important to any work on country, to always have the young working with and learning from older generations. Sean listened to our request and each year he and students have brought with them their young families. Having small children again running around Bentinck Island has filled the hearts of our elders Netta, Amy, Dolly and Ethel who are often on Bentinck without grandchildren. We want to nominate Sean [for the Bruce Veitch Award] to show him our gratitude to his involvement with our community and our families.”

Sean has been nominated for the Bruce Veitch Award not only for this constant and unceasing work in Indigenous consultation, but also for his guidance of others – students and colleagues alike – to emulate his high ethical and moral stand in ensuring appropriate collaboration with Indigenous colleagues and research partners.  Sean, by his shining example, leads others to conduct research in a genuinely community collaborative framework.

Congratulations, Sean, on being the recipient of the 2014 Bruce Veitch Award for Excellence in Community Engagement.