The Narrm Oration

The Narrm Oration is the University’s key address that profiles leading Indigenous peoples from across the world in order to enrich our ideas about possible futures for Indigenous Australia.  Narrm is the Woi Wurrung word for the Melbourne region.

Delivered annually since 2009, the Narrm Oration is held every November on the Parkville campus.

All images by Peter Casamento unless noted otherwise.

2022 -  Professor  Eleanor Bourke

The 2022 Narrm Oration was delivered by Professor Eleanor Bourke AM, Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission and was titled 'Truth, understanding, transformation: laying the foundations for change'.

About the orator

Professor Eleanor Bourke AM is a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba Elder andImage supplied by the Yoorook Justice Commission is Chair of the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

Professor Bourke has held executive positions in community, state and federal government agencies. She was a Co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria for three years, Board Member for the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council for twelve years and a Board Member of Native Title Services Victoria.

In 2005, Professor Bourke's Wergaia family was recognised in Victoria’s first positive native title determination now known as the Wotjobaluk case. This native title included five First Peoples: Wotjobaluk Wergaia, Jardwa, Jardwajarli and Japagulk peoples.

Professor Bourke has had an extensive career in academia. She was a Professor of Aboriginal and Islander Studies and Director of Aboriginal Programs at Monash University. She was also previously an Associate Professor and Director of the Aboriginal Research Institute in the University of South Australia. She was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll for Women in 2010 and the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll in 2019.

Professor Bourke chaired the Working Group to the former Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission, led by Commissioner, Jill Gallagher AO, in supporting the establishment of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. She presided over the election of the Board of the First Peoples Assembly on 1 December 11, 2019. In 2022 Professor Bourke was awarded Member of the Order of Australia. Orator image: Supplied by Yoorrook Justice Commission

Oration synopsis

Victoria is the first jurisdiction to have actioned the Treaty and Truth elements of the Uluru Statement of the Heart. In May 2021, the Yoorrook Justice Commission was established and Professor Eleanor Bourke, appointed as its Chairperson. In the 2022 Narrm Oration, Professor Eleanor Bourke reflected upon Yoorrook’s broad mandate and the important role that truth and story-telling traditions play in keeping alive First Peoples culture.  As we embark upon a national conversation around the enshrinement of Indigenous Voice to Parliament, Professor Bourke discussed the significance of truth telling in the context of reform and reconciliation.

2021 – Professor Papaarangi Reid

About the orator

Professor Papaarangi Reid is a member of Te Rarawa iwi in North Hokianga and sincePapaarangi Reid 2006 she has been Tumuaki (Deputy Dean – Māori) and Head of Te Kupenga Hauora Māori at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland. She is an alumnus of this university, graduating in science and medicine with post-graduate qualifications in obstetrics and community health. She is a specialist in public health medicine and a Fellow of the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine. She was also awarded an honorary fellowship by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Professor Reid is most noted for her long-standing work holding governments to account for inequities, especially in health outcomes for Māori and other Indigenous peoples.  She believes that equity for Indigenous citizens is a symbol of government commitment to Indigenous rights. She is committed to increasing the number of Māori and Pacifica graduates in health professions and thereby changing the face of the New Zealand health workforce and improving the cultural safety of health services.

Professor Reid has well over a hundred publications and is sought after internationally as a collaborator and commentator in Indigenous health and health equity. She is a member of the leadership team of Ngā Pae o Te Māramatanga, New Zealand’s Māori Centre of Research Excellence. Professor Reid has been a member of WHO and UNICEF Commissions and been part of other international collaborations, committees and councils. She is an honorary Professor at The University of Melbourne. Her work has been recognised by a number of awards including being named Public Health Champion in 2007 by the New Zealand Public Health Association, two awards from Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa, a leadership award from the LIME Network and awards for her early work in Māori tobacco control.  Orator Image:  Supplied by Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health

Oration synopsis

‘If you google Indigenous peoples, the images that come up are usually of people wearing traditional ceremonial attire, in cultural settings or in remote locations. As Indigenous peoples, we have spent most of our post-colonial time surviving genocide, demanding Indigenous rights, telling and retelling Indigenous histories, reclaiming languages driven close to extinction, protecting our other-than-human relations in natural environments, and rebuilding the legitimacy of Indigenous knowledge traditions. Such colonial imagery and these battles force us to be constantly focused on the past.

Meanwhile, our present is littered with the “C” crises – colonialism, capitalism, consumerism, COVID, and climate. These critical current challenges are impacting hugely on our futures, both the futures that emerge and those we dare to envision.

Māori have a saying – i ngā rā o mua – the days of the past are in front of us, and therefore we walk into the future bringing our experiences of the past. To live up to the expectations of both our ancestors and our descendants as yet unborn, we need to fully imagine and plan to navigate Indigenous futures; to heal our planet and ourselves, to find joy, and to rebuild respectful relationships. In this oration, I will discuss issues I believe will help or hinder our navigation points into our futures.’

2020 – Associate Professor Michael-Shawn Fletcher

About the orator

Associate Professor Fletcher is a descendant of the Wiradjuri and a geographer interested in the long-term interactions between humans, climate, disturbance, vegetation and landscapes in the southern hemisphere with a particular emphasis on how Indigenous burning has shaped the Australian landscape. He is Director of Research Capability at the Indigenous Knowledge Institute, Assistant Dean (Indigenous) in the Faculty of Science at the University of Melbourne, and a panel member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts. Orator Image: Supplied by Michael-Shawn Fletcher.

Oration synopsis

The 2020 Narrm Oration is entitled:  Our Country, Our Way: How Indigenous people and knowledge can save Australia’s environmental and social unravelling.  Australia is in the midst of both environmental and social crises. With the highest rate of biodiversity loss on earth, the country is facing an ever-increasing barrage of massive catastrophic wildfires that wreak untold environmental damage and its First Peoples are among the most disadvantaged and disaffected demographic. In the 2020 Narrm Oration, Associate Professor Fletcher will argue that many of Australia’s current environmental problems can be traced to the impact of British invasion and the violent and devastating effects this has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Embedding the Aboriginal world view and notion of Country into mainstream Australia has the potential to benefit the lives and livelihoods of all Australians and our Country.

2019 – Associate Professor Larry Kimura

About the orator

Larry KimuraDr Larry L. Kimura, PhD (Hawaiian), is Associate Professor of Hawaiian Language at Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii Hilo.  He is chairperson of the Hawaiian Lexicon (new Hawaiian words) Committee for the Hale Kuamoʻo Hawaiian Language Center of the College focusing on Hawaiian curriculum development and teacher licensing for Hawaiʻi’s Department of Education K-12 Hawaiian Immersion / Medium Programs.  Dr Kimura is a Co-Principal Investigator for a National Science Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities grant to digitise and archive spoken native Hawaiian speech documentation. He has been recording Hawaiʻi’s last native Hawaiian speakers since 1966 and most significantly through his hosting the Ka Leo Hawaiʻi radio program of some 525 hours of first language Hawaiian speakers for sixteen years, from 1972 – 1988.  Dr Kimura is the first President and Co-Founder of Hawaiʻi’s first Pūnana Leo Hawaiian language immersion preschools..

Oration synopsis

In the 2019 Narrm Oration ‘The Fabric of Hawaiian Medium Education: a Perspective for Indigenous Language Revitalisation’, Dr Larry Kimura imparted a progression of thirty-six years (1983-2019) of sorting out obstacles to advance the life of the Hawaiian language and cultural well-being.  Hawaiʻi now uses Hawaiian as the medium of education from preschool through to high school (P-12) and engages the essential curriculum content to participate in a larger global society through a Hawaiian philosophy of education because, as Dr Kimura states, "Our language binds us to who we are.  This setting challenges us to live in our language for today's world.  If we cannot live in our language today, how will it survive for the future?"

2018 – Niklas Labba

About the orator

Niklas Labba, has grown up as a traditional reindeer herder andNiklas Labba is today combining reindeer herding with employment as the Academic Director, Centre for Sámi Studies at University of Tromsø/The Arctic University of Norway. Before the position at the University, Labba was employed at the Norwegian Sámi Parliament as the Head of Section for Sámi language management and language politics development.  In this position he was involved in consultations between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian Government about a new language law proposal. Niklas has been part of several projects monitoring the impacts of climate change and has represented both the Swedish and Norwegian Governments in expert groups connected to the Arctic Council, the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations bodies.

Oration synopsis

The Uluru Statement, released in 2017, has prompted widespread discussion in Australia around the creation of a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous voice to parliament. As this conversation progresses, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike pressure the government for constitutional recognition and treaty, we can learn from the struggles and successes of First Nations peoples around the world whose stories guide and inspire.

The story of the Sámi offers profound lessons on constitutional recognition and self-determination for Indigenous Australians today.  With Sámi people divided across four nation states – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia – the likely future for the Sámi differs greatly across those states. Only in Norway is the right of the Sámi to self-determination recognised and an agreement between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian state in place that the former should be consulted about issues concerning the Sámi people. This is, in principle and in part, what the Uluru statement requested: an Indigenous voice to the Australian Parliament.

As the Sámi look to secure their future in each of these geographic territories, there is ongoing discussion about a Nordic Sámi Convention to increase the equitability of nation state policy towards the Sámi people rather than the creation of a Sámi state.  Niklas Labba offered precious insights into the fundamental importance of First Nations voice and constitutional recognition to the long-term prosperity of Indigenous peoples across the globe.

This year's oration was followed by a panel discussion on The Importance of Indigenous Voice in Governance, featuring Niklas Labba, Associate Professor Sheryl Lightfoot (University of British Columbia), Professor Daryle Rigney (Flinders University) and Dr Sana Nakata (Moderator, University of Melbourne).

2017 – June Oscar AO

About the orator

June OscarJune Oscar AO is a proud Bunuba woman from the remote town of Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. She is a strong advocate for Indigenous Australian languages, social justice and women’s issues, and has worked tirelessly to reduce Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

June has held a raft of influential positions including as Deputy Director of the Kimberley Land Council, Chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre and the Kimberley Interpreting Service, and Chief Investigator with WA’s Lililwan Project addressing FASD. She was appointed to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (1990) and was a winner of the 100 Women of Influence 2013 in the Social Enterprise and Not For Profit category. In 2015, June received the Menzies School of Health Research Medallion for her work with FASD. She is a co-founder of the Yiramalay Wesley Studio School and a Community member of the Fitzroy Valley Futures Governing Committee. In February 2017, June was awarded an honorary doctorate from Edith Cowan University.

June began her five-year term as Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner on 3 April 2017.

Oration synopsis

The Uluru Statement has inspired Indigenous people and many other Australians to think big about their sense of Australian nationhood and the potential for Indigenous recognition and inclusion in Australian nation building. Within this thinking, must be addressed the fundamental importance of rebuilding Indigenous communities whose cultural, social and economic fabric have been shattered by colonisation over many generations.

In the 2017 Narrm Oration – Resilience and Reconstruction: The agency of women in rebuilding strong families, communities and organisations – June Oscar suggests that the Australian nation must invest in a strengths-based approach to Indigenous community rebuilding and recovery, and recognise that our Indigenous female leaders are our greatest agents for change and empowerment. There is much to celebrate when we consider their great work, and that of the non-Indigenous women who have supported the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and partnered with them in building a better tomorrow.

2016 – Stan Grant

About the orator

Stan Grant is an Australian man of Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi heritage. Stan GrantHe spent his young years on the road in an itinerant family searching the backblocks of New South Wales trying to survive. His journey has taken him around the world as a journalist covering the biggest stories of our times, from war and conflict to revolution, disaster and political and economic upheaval. Stan has won some of the most prestigious awards in journalism both in Australia and internationally. He has published two critically praised and best selling books The Tears of Strangers and Talking to my Country, and is the author of the recently released Quarterly Essay looking at Indigenous futures. Stan has worked for the ABC, Seven Network, SBS, National Indigenous Television, Sky News, The Guardian newspaper and, for more than a decade, as senior foreign correspondent with CNN based in Asia and the Middle East.

Oration synopsis

2016 has been an annus horribilus for indigenous people. A 10-year-old girl took her own life in a tragic reminder that Aboriginal kids are nearly 10 times more likely to commit suicide. The treatment of boys at Don Dale detention centre outraged the nation, sparked a Royal Commission and shone a light into the plight of the most incarcerated population in the country. Deaths in custody, protest, violence and a crisis in Indigenous policy all paint a dire picture. Yet amid the gloom there is a spark of hope: more Indigenous kids are finishing school and graduating university, Indigenous performers are topping our charts and winning awards, Indigenous sportspeople dominate in their fields and the Indigenous middle class is growing faster than any other sector of the population. These are the descendants of the great Aboriginal economic migration of the 20th century. These pioneers caught the tailwinds of economic boom and social change, they transformed their lives and altered forever our country. Stan looks at how far we have come and the pathway to success.

2015 – Professor Marcia Langton AM

About the orator

Professor Marcia Langton holds the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has produced a large body of knowledge in the areas of political and legal anthropology, Indigenous agreements and engagement with the minerals industry, and Indigenous culture and art.

Oration synopsis

In the 2015 Narrm Oration, 'From hunting to contracting', Professor Marcia Langton addresses Indigenous economic development: 'The gates have been opened. Indigenous Australians have been formally allowed into the Australian economy. First the iron ore miners, then many of the top 200 Australian corporations, and now the Commonwealth government, have created an Indigenous supply chain by procuring goods and services from Indigenous businesses. This follows the history of economic exclusion from colonial times to the 21st century. In many ways, Indigenous people remain locked out of normal economic participation. So, with one gate open, we should now think about removing the fences.'

2014 – Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith CZNM

About the oratorLinda Tuhiwai Smith

Professor Smith has worked in the field of Māori education and health for many years as an educator and researcher and is well known for her work in Kaupapa Māori research. Her book Decolonising Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples has been an international best seller in the Indigenous world since 1988.

Oration synopsis

Professor Smith’s oration discussed the importance and relevance of Indigenous knowledges to the ways we live our lives now and the ways our following generations can live their lives. Professor Smith began with a discussion about how, internationally, Indigenous knowledges are currently conceptualised, and discussed and raised some critical questions about the implications of those conceptualisations. She then discussed points of convergence with recent scholarship before shifting gear to examine the big challenges we face and the ways an Indigenous knowledges approach can help guide us through.

2013 – Professor Taiaiake Alfred

About the orator

Profesor Taiaiake Alfred is the founding Director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Professor Alfred specialises in traditions of governance, decolonisation strategies, and land based cultural restoration.

Oration synopsis

'Being and Becoming Indigenous: Resurgence Against Contemporary Colonialism'

2012 – Professor Megan Davis

Megan DavisAbout the orator

Professor Megan Davis is Professor of Law and Director, Indigenous Law Centre, Faculty of Law at the University of New South Wales. She is also an expert member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.

Oration synopsis

Professor Davis spoke on Aboriginal women and the limitations of the right to self-determination. She argued that the way self-determination has been configured in international law, and interpreted by the state and Indigenous communitites, has been skewed in a way that impedes the capacity of Aboriginal women and girls to freely determine their economic, social and cultural destiny. She provided an alternative view of self-determination based on individual capability – what each individual is able to do and to be. Accordingly, for Aboriginal women to achieve a threshhold of wellbeing, the current level of violence, vulnerability and disadvantage they face needs to discussed openly and addressed.

2011 – William L. Iggiagruk Hensley

About the orator

Mr William Iggiagruk Hensley is an Inuit Leader known for his extraordinary contribution to the Alaskan Native Land Claims Movement. Willie was elected to the Alaska House of representatives at the age of 25. He played a critical role in the negotiations surrounding the development and enactment of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 that set aside 44 million acres and awarded $960 million for the Alaskan Natives. Willie has recently been named as Distinguished Visiting Professor by the University of Alaska in Anchorage and will be presenting a class called 'Alaska Policy Frontiers: Exploring Future Realities'.

2010 – Dr Manley A. Begay, Jr.

About the orator

Dr Manley A. Begay Jr is Faculty Chair, Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management, and Policy, Senior Lecturer in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Arizona, and Co-Director of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard University.

Oration synopsis

Drawing from the North American context, Dr Begay’s oration titled ‘Indigenous Nation Re-Building Renaissance’, provided valuable insights for his Australian audience on issues of Indigegnous leadership, governance and resiliency. 'After hundreds of years of control by government, Native nations in the United States and Canada are currently experiencing a political resurgence,' said Dr Begay

'For Indigenous North Americans, it’s a wonderful time to be alive. I never thought that in my lifetime I’d see a resurgence of this magnitude where Indigenous people and native nations are calling the shots. In turn, wonderful things are happening.'

'That’s the story I bring to you. And it’s a good one.'

2009 – Professor Mason Durie

About the orator

Professor Mason Durie is Professor of Māori Research and Development and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Māori and Pasifika), Massey University, New Zealand.

Oration synopsis

'Indigenous Development: The Academy as a Site for the Transmission of Old and New Knowledge and the Advancement of Indigeneity.'