Victoria University is among a select group of successful recipients for $11.8 million in federal funding announced today by Education Minister Dan Tehan under a new 2020 Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture.

VU received grants valued at more than $500,000 for two separate research projects: one on the links between the Black Power movement and Australia’s Aboriginal Health Services, and a second on the oral history of Koori Courts in Victoria.

VU has a growing international reputation for advancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research and providing a strong evidence base for understanding Australia’s contemporary history. Research spearheaded by Prof Foley and colleagues and drawing on the unique materials in the Aboriginal History Archive, was awarded top impact rankings by the Australian Government’s Engagement and Impact Assessment in 2019.

With the support of the Australian Research Council (ARC), 49 research projects were funded, with a focus on Australian society, history and culture. ARC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Sue Thomas said “the projects will advance understanding into the formation, development and future of Australian society.”

Shaping Australia’s Aboriginal Health Services: Politics, power and people

Professor Gary Foley and Dr Clare Land received $270, 662 for this project.

This project aims to provide the first comprehensive Aboriginal-owned and authored history of the national Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services network – comprised of 150 local primary health providers and recognised as critical to ‘closing the gap’ in Aboriginal disadvantage. Using unique archives and a custom web portal to support distance research, the project expects to capture hidden histories of participants, philosophies and events. The innovative, community-led research processes will contribute to Aboriginal research capacity and engagement through academic-community partnerships and highly validated historical accounts. This should lay foundations for improved and engaged policy responses in health and education.

“This funding is crucial as Professor Foley, with collaborators such as myself, continues to reveal important histories and produce sharp new historical interpretations that shed light on the issues at stake in the current political moment. This work is newly possible, and accelerating, due to the fact we can now draw on the outstanding archival collection contained in the Aboriginal History Archive. The way many of the scholars within Moondani Balluk Academic Unit work – doing critical, creative, community-based research and upholding a deep respect for Aboriginal agency and radicalism – ensures that these kinds of stories are told in a way that resonates with the understandings of the people who brought the events about,” said Dr Clare Land, Academic/Researcher at Moondani Balluk Academic Unit.

An Intergenerational Oral History of the Koori Courts

The Sir Zelman Cowan Centre’s Professor Kathy Laster, Adjunct Professor Anne Wallace and Adjunct Professor Richard Broome received $267, 833 for this project.

This intergenerational oral history project aims to capture the creation of the Koori Courts in Victoria: an innovative culturally appropriate response to the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prisons. The project will capture this significant story while the key players are still with us. Outcomes include: building the capacity of Indigenous researchers, identifying insights into institutional change and creating a touring exhibition providing an accessible record of a turning point in Indigenous, legal and Australian history. Benefits for Indigenous communities and the wider Australian public include showcasing of an inclusive justice system, thereby supporting confidence in the rule of law.

“We are so thrilled to be working on a project which builds the capacity of young Indigenous scholars. They will lead the research, exploring the key figures leading this development, especially the powerful and influential elders, the first generation to be included in the legal systems sentencing of Indigenous people.

The Koori Courts were one of the strategies to try and reduce the shameful over representation of Indigenous people in prisons,” said Professor Laster, Director, Sir Zelman Cowen Centre.

These research projects come as VU drives forward its commitment to Planetary Health and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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