Monash University Publishing | Contacts Page
Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

Making a Difference: Fifty Years of Indigenous Programs at Monash University, 1964–2014

Chapter 4

MOSA: CREATING OPPORTUNITIES

In 1980 only 0.3 percent of Aboriginal school leavers commenced tertiary education in comparison to more than 2 percent of non-Aboriginal school leavers, and many failed to complete. In 1983 fewer than 800 Aboriginal people were enrolled in higher education courses around the country. At Monash University, only two Aboriginal people were enrolled that year, one of whom was Eve Fesl. From 1984, when the Monash Orientation Scheme for Aborigines (MOSA) commenced, to 1998 when it was disbanded due to falling enrolments, more than 200 Aboriginal students gained a certificate equivalent to matriculation and an introduction to university life which saw a credible portion pursue higher education at Monash or elsewhere.

The story of MOSA is another story of talented and dedicated individuals working beyond their remit to make a difference for Aboriginal people at Monash. The brainchild of Colin Bourke, Merle Ricklefs and Eve Fesl, MOSA came into existence at the beginning of a wave of change in the provision of education for Aboriginal people. In backing MOSA, Monash established a model and a precedent for Aboriginal enrolment in university that exposed inequalities and transformed educational pathways for Aboriginal people. In November 1985, at the end of MOSA’s second year, a House of Representatives Select Committee report on Aboriginal Education called on universities to ‘develop bridging courses and enclaves for Aboriginal studies to enable them to gain entry to a wide range of university courses’. The Committee noted that Monash was the only university to provide such a course: whereas ‘many tertiary institutions have been prepared to modify their entry requirements’, ‘Monash stands alone’ in attempting to bridge the ‘educational and cultural gap’. By the end of the following decade, there were pathway schemes in operation at universities throughout the nation. Focusing on the leadership provided by Ricklefs and others in establishing and running MOSA, this chapter documents the program’s rise and fall in the context of wider educational reform and changing educational priorities for Aboriginal people.

‘What You Need is a Bridging Course’

Building on Colin Bourke’s parting advice that what was needed at Monash was a bridging or pre-university year for Aboriginal students, Merle Ricklefs, Professor of History, involved Eve Fesl, Director of the Aboriginal Research Centre, David Bradley, Professor of English, and W.H. Scott, Professor of Sociology, in working out the details of a comprehensive ‘proposal for a special program to overcome the educational disadvantages of Aboriginal students at tertiary level’. American-born Ricklefs had been active in the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s and had worked in London during the racially-tense Enoch Powell era. His sensitivity to racial issues was heightened and, just as importantly, not having grown up in Australia, he ‘didn’t know that it [increasing Aboriginal enrolments at university] couldn’t be done’.

image

MOSA students

Source: Monash Archives

In May 1981 Ricklefs drew up a discussion paper that identified the main aim of the scheme as being ‘to improve mature Aboriginal students’ prospects of completing undergraduate degrees so as to increase, in particular, the number of Aboriginal teachers and lawyers in the community’. The paper, at this stage just a statement of general ideas, rested on the assumption that ‘autonomous Aboriginal advancement is a desired aim and that Aboriginal schoolteachers and lawyers must eventually play a role in such advancement’. Displaying his characteristic optimism, Ricklefs expected that the preliminary year would, ‘in due course, render itself unnecessary’ through achieving an ‘end [to] the ‘second-class’ status of Aboriginals in the educational world’.

A key feature of the proposed scheme was that ‘upon satisfactory completion … of the preliminary year, students should be guaranteed admission into the Monash Faculties of Education, Law, and Arts’. This aspect of the discussion paper, which was circulated to interested parties throughout the University and outside it, attracted the most comment. University registrar, J.D. Butchart was ‘most unhappy’ about guaranteeing Aborigines ‘a place on a non-competitive basis’; he viewed it as ‘discriminatory’. From the beginning Monash had been required by statute to maintain the same academic standards as the University of Melbourne, a requirement that Butchart was keen to preserve. Although he advised Ricklefs that he ‘would not mind at all if your Aborigines who complete the preliminary year are then said to have been ranked as best we can and selected on merit’, his condescending tone suggested otherwise. Ricklefs met Butchart’s objection easily: ‘There is no question of guaranteeing places in advance’, he explained. Instead, the ‘pre-tertiary year would finish with a competitive examination, and places would be offered only to candidates who had performed satisfactorily on that examination’. Pressure to regard the preliminary year as preparation for the Australian Scholastic Aptitude Test came from several quarters, but Ricklefs resisted all attempts to subject Aboriginal students to additional examination. Rather than exercising positive discrimination, Ricklefs argued that the ‘principle behind the whole proposal [was] not, of course, to give a special advantage to anyone, but rather to ameliorate the special disadvantage suffered by Aboriginals in the education field’.

By the end of 1981 Ricklefs and his co-planners had drafted a second proposal. This version, a ten-page typescript document covering everything from student numbers and admission procedures, to staffing and the university community, was submitted to the Deans of Arts and Law, to the ARC, and to the Vice Chancellor for general endorsement. Further revisions were made and plans established for the next phase. A clear separation of tasks was established: while Ricklefs continued to cajole the University, Fesl did the same with Aboriginal organisations and committees.

Fesl was responsible for placing the revised proposal on the agenda of the National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC) meeting in February 1982. The NAEC’s agenda revolved around the training of Aboriginal teachers. It saw the bridging scheme as a way of achieving its goal of 1000 qualified Aboriginal teachers by the end of the decade, and so was supportive. However, rather than limit the program to Monash, the NAEC ‘considered that Monash University should be deleted from the proposal and the proposal should be written so as to apply to all universities’. Although the Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor R. Baxt, made a similar suggestion – namely, that consideration be given to ‘cooperation with other institutions in the mounting of such a program’ – this suggestion was not taken up.

Nevertheless the NAEC’s support was crucial. A body comprised wholly of Aboriginal members, its desire to see the scheme implemented in other universities was transformed by Ricklefs into a statement on the proposal’s intrinsic value: the NAEC ‘regards [the] proposal as being a model of what ought to be done by Universities’, he exclaimed. The NAEC’s support enabled Ricklefs to defend the proposal as not only Aboriginal-inspired, but Aboriginal-authorised. At every opportunity he stressed that Colin Bourke had first proposed the scheme, and that in pursing the proposal he was responding to what the Aboriginal community said it wanted: ‘We are trying to respond to legitimate requests from Aboriginal people for special university programs to solve their special problems’. For similar reasons, he emphasised Fesl’s membership of the ‘core planning group’ and direct involvement ‘in every step of the planning’, and that the ARC Board – ‘a majority of whose members are Aboriginal’ – and the Victorian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group had approved the proposal. These statements were all true, but Ricklefs’ own role was also crucial. He drove the process, answering criticisms, finding solutions and providing leadership at every juncture.

Conscious that similar programs were already in operation elsewhere, and anxious not to duplicate services, Ricklefs approached the coordinators of bridging courses for Aboriginal students at the South Australian and Western Australian Institutes of Technology (SAIT and WAIT); later he and Fesl visited SAIT and WAIT to learn as much as possible about their experiences. Ricklefs also got in touch with authorities at the University of New South Wales where a special entry scheme for Aboriginal applicants lacking normal matriculation qualifications was in existence. His enquiries left him convinced that what he was proposing for Monash was ‘unique among universities’ in Australia. Indeed, this was part of its appeal. Ricklefs recognised the leading role Monash had already played in establishing the Aboriginal Research Centre and sought to build upon this, claiming that:

The Orientation Year program will allow Monash to exercise further educational and moral leadership within the wider community, and to demonstrate that this University not only recognizes and analyses contemporary issues, but also has the imagination and commitment to contribute to their resolution.

By May 1982 the proposal had received the backing of the Arts and Law Faculty Boards, and the Board of the ARC, but there was still considerable opposition. With the proposal scheduled to go before the Professorial Board at the end of June, Ricklefs spent most of that month lobbying for support.

Even those in favour of the scheme, such as Professor W.A. Rachinger (Department of Physics) found much to criticise. Anticipating the concerns of others, Rachinger questioned whether the proposed orientation year would be better placed in a secondary institution, and whether it would debase the existing matriculation criteria. Fine-tuned through repetition, Ricklefs’ response cut to the core of the issue: ‘only a university can do what we propose’, he replied, because only a university has the necessary ‘prestige’. Monash’s reputation as a top university was important in terms of attracting both ‘the most promising students’ and financial support. But there was also another factor: ‘only by preparing students at the same institution where they will then carry on as tertiary students can one achieve the continuity which is thought to be important in the success achieved by similar programs at WAIT and SAIT.’ Moreover, hosting the scheme would enable Monash to ‘keep direct control’ of its own admissions.

Addressing the issue at the heart of nearly all concerns about the scheme, Ricklefs explained that it would not lower matriculation standards. Quite the contrary, it would raise the skills of Aboriginal students to Monash’s matriculation requirements. Importantly, he pointed out that this was different to what was being at other Australian universities (including the University of Melbourne) that had ‘waived all matriculation criteria for Aboriginal people’, requiring merely an interview. It was also different from what was being done in the United States where some universities had created courses within their degree structures that were below university standard as a means of ‘accelerating the entrance of disadvantaged citizens into tertiary study’. Viewed in this comparative light, Ricklefs noted that his proposal was ‘in fact a conservative measure’.

To Ricklefs great surprise and delight, the Professorial Board ‘overwhelmingly approved’ the proposal for an orientation year for intending Aboriginal undergraduate students at Monash University at its meeting on 30 June 1982. With the University firmly behind the scheme, it went to Council for final endorsement on 12 July and was approved pending finance. ‘It was an exciting time at Monash’, Ricklefs later recalled. The scheme’s most strident critics now fell in behind him determined to make it ‘the best program of its kind’. In a press release announcing the scheme, Ricklefs highlighted its ‘bridging’ and ‘enclave’ elements. The former, he explained, sought to ‘bridge the educational, psychological, and cultural gap’ which existed between Aboriginal and other first year university students, while the latter aimed to provide a specific locale and staff which would act as a support mechanism for Aboriginal students. Monash had shown ‘national leadership’ in encouraging the plan, but whether it went any further depended on government providing the necessary funding.

The Professorial Board established a committee to consider the implementation of the scheme which, subject to finance, was due to commence in 1984: Ricklefts (Chairman), Fesl, Professors R. Baxt, J.D. Legge and J.M. Swan were appointed. Professor Graeme Davison (History Department) was appointed later as Deputy Chairman. The committee’s first task was to decide on a name for the scheme. Ricklefs wanted an ‘elegant name’ with a memorable acronym: he liked OPEN (Orientation Program and Entry), but it failed to produce much enthusiasm. The preferred option was MOSA (Monash Orientation Scheme for Aborigines). The committee sought to resolve questions of accommodation and staffing, but it was funding that dominated much of their work. Without funds, all other matters were moot. A prospectus was prepared and distributed to relevant Commonwealth Departments in September 1982. In principle agreements were reached for a joint funding arrangement between the Departments of Education and Aboriginal Affairs, but no formal offers could be made until after the Federal Budget was handed down in the middle of the following year. This created a potential stumbling block, for without guaranteed funding, the committee could not advertise for staff or students. In ‘the absence of any negative advice … and in the light of the pressing time considerations’, the committee’s solution was to proceed with conditional advertisements for the positions of director and teacher. Advertisements were also placed for students. In September 1983, just months before the first intake of students was due to arrive, funding sufficient to cover staffing and administrative costs was secured. MOSA was ‘in business’.

The planning and negotiating that resulted in MOSA’s establishment took place in a wider context of changing approaches to Aboriginal education. In 1982 Tranby Aboriginal College in Sydney established an Aboriginal Education Preparatory course that, like MOSA, sought to ease the transition for people who were returning to study as adults. Koori Kollij, established in Melbourne in 1984, also sought to rectify the deficiencies in Aboriginal peoples’ primary and secondary schooling by offering courses in ‘black studies’ in an environment that was supportive of students’ Aboriginal identity. In Adelaide, the Aboriginal Community College helped students develop skills they could use in obtaining employment. The growth of these autonomous Aboriginal colleges demonstrated a felt need within the Aboriginal community for adult education programs that was not being met elsewhere.

The Commonwealth and state governments were listening, but change was slow in coming. By the mid 1980s, it was increasingly accepted that ‘Aboriginal people [were] best equipped to define their own educational needs and that, to the greatest extent possible, Aboriginal people should be involved in establishing the aims and objectives of Aboriginal polices and programs’. Embracing this principle, MOSA’s planning group decided that, if at all possible, the Director of the program ‘should … be of Aboriginal origin’. The desirability of this was debated by the Committee for Undergraduate Studies in the Faculty of Arts which, although divided, eventually agreed that the appointment should be ‘the best available, irrespective of racial origin’. Indicative of the poor state of cultural awareness then current at Monash, the Committee for Undergraduate Studies further agreed that ‘if no Aboriginal were suitable, an American black or an American Indian might represent an appropriate alternative’. No one was expecting Isaac Brown.

Isaac Brown

The ‘key to MOSA’s success’ during its early years was its first Director, Isaac Brown. Fesl’s reaction, vividly recalled by Ricklefs, summed up the selection panel’s amazement when Brown was interviewed: ‘who is he, where did he come from?’ ‘Softly spoken, engaging, gentle, and with an accent that sounded like it was the product of the English public school system’, Brown made a lasting impression. Born in Darwin, Brown’s Indigenous ancestors were Iwaidja and Torres Strait Islander peoples. He attended school in Alice Springs and Darwin, Teachers College in Adelaide, the Australian College of Speech Therapists in Melbourne, and gained a Bachelor of Applied Science from the Victoria Institute of Colleges. Before coming to Monash, he worked as a teacher, speech pathologist, and Director of Clinical Education in the School of Communication Disorders at the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences. At the time of his appointment as Director of MOSA, he was working with the Victorian Health Commission.

Brown selected Dr Janice Newton, a Monash graduate with a Diploma of Education and a PhD in Anthropology, to teach alongside him in MOSA’s foundation year. Aided by Juanita Page, Brown’s very capable secretary, and the MOSA Committee, chaired by Ricklefs, Brown and Newton began recruiting students at the end of 1983. Based on advice from the conveners of the bridging courses at SAIT and WAIT, it was decided that the students should all be mature, aged twenty-one or over, and should be selected from around Australia. The SAIT program, known as the Aboriginal Task Force, had had the most success with students who came from further away and were therefore detached from family demands; Ricklefs, keen to give the first cohort every chance of success, kept this in mind in the selection of students for MOSA. Both he and Brown felt it was important, especially in the first year, to choose candidates with ‘stickability’. Potential students were asked to write two-hundred words on why they wished to study at university, what sort of career they hoped a university degree might lead to, and how well qualified they felt they were to enter the MOSA scheme.

image

Isaac Brown

Source: Monash Archives

Photographer: Richard Crompton

The most suitable candidates were invited to Monash to see the campus and meet the staff. Newton recalled the importance of this (all expenses paid) introduction to university life: ‘we gave them a lecture, then we sent them to the library to answer comprehensive questions – in quiet with no smoking … and then, after that, if they were still wanting to do it’ they knew what they were signing up for. ‘A lot of people self-selected out’, Newton said, when they realised how ‘how boringly awful’ university life could be. Final decisions were made at the conclusion of this two-way evaluation. MOSA’s selection procedures ensured that all students granted admission were of a certain academic calibre and that their motivation was high; anything less would have been setting people up for failure.

Twenty applications were received from all the mainland states and the Northern Territory, and nine students were selected for MOSA’s foundation year. Of these seven started in February 1984, and six completed the year: Brian McNamee, Barbara Nona, Fiona Hill, Gary Martin, Janette Bibby and Gwenda Davis. All six achieved a standard at least equal to the Higher School Certificate, qualifying them to proceed to first year undergraduate study in Arts or Law. Bibby and Nona were the first MOSA students to graduate, gaining Arts degrees in 1988. Martin completed his Arts degree in 1990.

Most MOSA students had completed at least Year 10 at high school, although some had a much lower standard of education. Preparing them for university meant helping them to develop general study and communication skills, read and make notes accurately, follow lectures, use a library, define and develop essay topics, write effectively, contribute orally to seminar and tutorial discussions, and sit examinations. These objectives were achieved within a course structure that approximated first year university work, but was based on HSC course descriptions. With only two teachers and limited resources, Brown and Newton worked out a year-long program which included core subjects in numeracy and communication skills, as well as three discipline areas: English, History, and Anthropology and Sociology. Contact hours were twelve per week, leaving plenty of time for private study.

image

Director of MOSA, Isaac Brown, with Gary Martin and his daughter

Source: Monash Archives

Photographer: Richard Crompton

MOSA was committed to achieving ‘success by cultural reinforcement’; that is, by ‘encouraging pride … in Aboriginal culture’ and Aboriginal identity. In practice, this meant including Aboriginal people, culture and history as topic areas, and setting readings by Aboriginal authors, poets and playwrights. Colin Bourke, Colin Johnson and Isobel Whites’ book, Before the Invasion: Aboriginal Life to 1788, was set as preliminary reading in all three discipline areas in 1986. Newton recalled that at least 60 percent of the content of the three discipline areas was Aboriginal. ‘Getting the students to feel proud of their history … and culture’ was not only ‘empowering’, she reflected, it also helped them to stay focused and interested in learning. Certainly this was Kerrie Keleher’s experience. She became aware of her Indigenous heritage in the late 1980s and enrolled in MOSA in 1993. Learning about Indigenous history really ‘fired [her] up’: ‘it changed my life’, she recalled, ‘because I didn’t have any of that growing up’.

Another way MOSA sought to encourage racial pride was with reference to other minority groups. Newton, who taught History and Anthropology/Sociology, included lectures on the contact history of Native Americans, racial attitudes to the Chinese in Australia during the gold-rush, the migrant experience in Australia, and race relations in South Africa. She received help from a range of people in the History Department (in whose corridor on the 6th floor of the Menzies Building MOSA was located), including Daniel Potts, Graeme Davison, Marian Quartly, and Andrew Markus.

Given all the pressures that MOSA students faced, Ricklefs was determined that they should not have to work in addition to their studies. Most students received a stipend from the Aboriginal Study Grants Scheme (ABSTUDY) – $70.75 per week, with a dependent’s allowance of $42.70 plus $10 for each additional dependent. This being insufficient to live on, Ricklefs established a ‘welfare fund’ based on private donations to be used primarily as a means of subsidising living costs, and as a source of emergency support in times of crisis. His goal was $10,000 for the foundation year and he reached this before the end of 1983 with major donations from the Elizabeth Eggleston Fund, the Herbert Vere Evatt Memorial Foundation, the William Buckland Foundation, the Lance Reichstein Charitable Foundation, and the Helen M. Schutt Trust. Students were asked to estimate housing, travel, child-care and establishment costs, and were paid from the welfare fund on a monthly basis. They could also apply for special loans to cover unforeseen expenses such as car repairs, medical costs and court fines.

One of MOSA’s most distinctive and important features, the welfare fund was an important contributor to the program’s success, but it was not without its problems. Uneasy about his role in the allocation of funds, Brown stated soon after his appointment that he preferred ‘not to be involved’. It was not that he disapproved of the scheme, it was more that he wished to separate teaching from money distribution. Elizabeth Nelson (later Reed), appointed a MOSA teacher in 1987, found the welfare fund extremely problematic: ‘not in the sense that it helped students … but [in it] being called a welfare fund’. She ‘found it excruciatingly difficult talking about the welfare fund’ because she ‘felt like [she] was a mission lady’. Probably Brown felt the same way. His reservations notwithstanding, managing the welfare fund was part of the Director’s job and Brown handled it with ‘care and precision’.

MOSA experienced steady growth during its first three years; the number of students increased to twelve (ten completions) in 1985, and fifteen (eleven completions) in 1986. An additional part-time teacher, Dr Angela Risdale, was employed to teach English in 1985, and guaranteed admission to qualified MOSA graduates was granted by the Faculty of Economics and Politics (ECOPS). The achievement of the latter tested Ricklefs redoubtable skills in diplomacy. Numerous carefully worded memorandums addressed to Professor W.A. Sinclair, Dean of ECOPS, left his office between July and October that year. Ricklefs carefully explained the process by which MOSA students were recommended for admission to Arts and/or Law by the MOSA Committee on the basis of advice from the MOSA Board of Examiners. Before agreeing to accept MOSA students, Sinclair required a ‘firm understanding that the MOSA Committee would not go against the advice of the representative of the Faculty [of ECOPS] on the Committee with respect to whether a satisfactory standard had been achieved by the applicant’. His patience pushed to the limit, Ricklefs assured Sinclair that while he ‘would have the power to reject a MOSA candidate’, MOSA’s assessment structures were intended to ensure that ‘we would never put you into a position in which you would feel obliged to do so’.

Like its recruitment process, MOSA’s assessment structures were extremely rigorous. The minutes of the fortnightly meetings attended by MOSA staff serve as a record of the high level of academic monitoring, as well as professional and personal care and attention, each student received throughout the year. The meetings held in May and September 1986 were typical. Each student’s progress was discussed, examination results scrutinised, and individualised programs for improvement worked out. Students who were struggling were offered extra tutorials, while students who were doing well were set ‘further readings … to extend [their] ability’. Non-attendance at tutorials was noted and remedial action planned. In cases where students appeared depressed or in need of extra attention, Brown or one of the other teachers was assigned to provide moral support. Even with this close degree of supervision, not everyone passed the MOSA year. Of the eleven students who completed the MOSA program in 1986, two failed, and nine were recommended by the MOSA Board of Examiners for admission to Monash University. Of these, one was considered admissible to ECOPS, but chose to enroll in Arts instead.

Not every student recommended for admission ended up studying at Monash, or completing degrees; some chose to attend different universities; some returned to their jobs with the prospect of promotion; some withdrew from university study, often for family related reasons, only to send their children (sometimes referred to as ‘MOSA babies’) in later years. From the outset it was understood that ‘success’ needed to be considered broadly. However, for the purpose of securing funding, ‘success’ in the narrow sense of increasing the number of Aboriginal people with tertiary qualifications was what mattered, and MOSA looked set to achieve this. In 1987 there were thirty-four Aboriginal students on campus: thirteen in the orientation year, eleven undergraduates in Arts, eight in Arts/Law, one in Economics/Law, and one in Economics.

In 1984–86, funding sufficient to cover MOSA’s staffing costs was received from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, and the Department of Education on an annual basis, while Monash provided accommodation and facilities. At the end of 1986, this funding pattern gave rise ‘to a crisis so severe that the very survival of the programme … was called into question’. Without warning, the Department of Education reduced its annual grant by more than $13,000, being the cost of the employer’s contribution for the Director’s superannuation. Ricklefs’ impassioned telex message to Prime Minister Robert (Bob) Hawke captured the urgency of the situation. Frustrated, Ricklefs explained that the Department of Education had undertaken ‘unequivocally to meet these costs’ when the original funding agreement was reached, but now refused. He fumed:

APPARENTLY FOR THIS BUREAUCRATIC REASON THE ONLY BRIDGING AND ENCLAVE SCHEME FOR ABORIGINES IN AN AUSTRALIAN UNIVERSITY – A SCHEME WITH MUCH SUCCESS BEHIND IT AND GREAT PROMISE AHEAD – MAY BE SHUT DOWN.

MORE SUSPICIOUS MINDS SUGGEST THAT THERE IS A DELIBERATE POLICY TO STOP MOSA BECAUSE OF ITS VERY SUCCESS, FOR THE EMERGENCE OF A MORE HIGHLY EDUCATED ABORIGINAL LEADERSHIP MAY THREATEN VESTED INTERESTS IN BOTH THE WHITE AND ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES.

BUT WE ARE PLAYING FOR LARGER STAKES. WE ARE PLAYING FOR DIGNITY, FOR PROGRESS, FOR UNDERSTANDING AND FOR JUSTICE. I BEG YOU TO INTERVENE PERSONALLY TO SAVE MOSA.

Ricklefs was convinced that the shortfall ‘would be the end of MOSA’: ‘it will be necessary for us to terminate one of the teaching positions, with the effect that serious questions must arise as to the viability of the entire MOSA teaching program’. There were no sinister motives; the Department of Education simply sought a greater contribution from Monash. After weeks of ‘lobbying and politicking, telexing, and telephoning Canberra’, the full level of funding was restored.

During 1987 the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission (CTEC) began urging universities to enroll Aboriginal students in what it called ‘professional faculties’, especially law, medicine, and engineering. Given that the Law Faculty at Monash was already involved in MOSA, Monash’s Vice Chancellor, Ray Martin, encouraged Ricklefs and Brown to think of ways of expanding MOSA to include laboratory-based disciplines. Initial discussions with the Deans of the Faculties of Medicine, Engineering, and Science proved positive. It was agreed that the ‘preparation of unqualified Aboriginal candidates for laboratory-based faculties would … require an extension of [MOSA] into a two-year program’. Ricklefs prepared a proposal for the CTEC outlining the costs, and requesting a commitment of an additional $50,000 per annum for at least three to five years. It quickly became apparent, however, that CTEC’s priority was to fund ‘special places’ for Aboriginal undergraduates, not university preparation courses. Ricklefs riposte revealed his growing level of irritation with the short-sightedness of government policy: ‘special places’ that were not accompanied by ‘special preparation and support facilities’ meant laying ‘the grounds for failure’.

In a lengthy document on ‘The Future of MOSA’ prepared in May 1987 at the request of the Vice Chancellor, Ricklefs laid out his recommendations for the expansion of MOSA. His plan hinged on Monash recognising MOSA as ‘successful, academically respectable, good for Monash, good for Aboriginal people, and good for the Australian society as whole’. Expanding on these points, Ricklefs observed:

MOSA has given Monash a national role in a very important area of educational development. MOSA also plays a role in an important social change within Australia, for I believe that we will soon see the emergence of a highly educated Aboriginal group, which will influence not only the future of the Aboriginal people of Australia, but also that of Australian society as a whole.

If Monash accepted that MOSA was all these things, if it wished MOSA to continue and was ‘interested in experimenting with an extension into laboratory-based faculties’, then Ricklefs’ recommendation was for the University to agree to fund the Director’s position for a fixed-term period of five years, freeing up other sources of funding for additional teachers salaries and other expenses associated with the development of a science-stream.

While Monash considered its options, Dr Deirdre Jordan from the University of Adelaide was engaged to conduct an independent external review of MOSA’s effectiveness, its success and failure rates, management structures, and teaching and funding arrangements. Overall, Jordan found MOSA to be ‘highly effective’. Her only substantive criticism was leveled at government for failing to provide MOSA with ongoing financial support. She called on the CTEC to recognise MOSA as ‘a program of national significance which may be used as a model for other programs which provide access to University education not only for Aboriginal people, but for the disadvantaged in general’, and to take responsibility for funding MOSA in its entirety on a triennial basis. Jordan gave the proposal to broaden the options available to Aboriginal students to include laboratory-based faculties her ‘strongest support’.

CTEC could not be persuaded to take over the funding of MOSA. Instead, in keeping with Ricklefs’ proposal, Monash agreed to commit itself to bearing the cost of Brown’s position for five years. An accord was reached with the newly created Department of Employment, Education and Training (DEET) at the end of 1987 enabling current funding provided by the Department of Education to be redirected towards the cost of two new staff appointments in the science area. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs Education and Training Programs was transferred to DEET at the same time, effectively creating a single funding body for MOSA.

The science stream commenced with an enrollment of six students in 1988. MOSA’s first two science teachers, Felicia Birman and Phil Heraud, developed a rigorous course in mathematics, physics and chemistry which included sixteen to twenty contact hours per week, of which four to six hours were spent in the laboratory. Rob Hyatt was among the first intake of students in the science stream. Unlike his fellow students, most of whom had had no previous science education or higher mathematical training, Hyatt had studied science in Year 11 and 12. Having failed to pass, Brown had made a special case for his acceptance into MOSA (see below) and he proved to be an excellent student. This was only partly a reflection of his previous experience and background knowledge. Hyatt reflected that he ‘found it easy because of the environment’ created by the teachers and the other students: ‘we were all together as the MOSA family’. For Hyatt, whose sense of Aboriginal identity was not very strong when he commenced the program, the mentoring he received from his fellow students was as important, perhaps even more so, than the formal learning: ‘the academic side led me on a path of work … but in terms of my Aboriginality … I don’t know where I’d be without that’, he explained. After completing the two-year MOSA science course, Hyatt enrolled in a Science degree, graduating with honours in 1994. He completed a Masters at RMIT in 1998 and later accepted a position with the Victorian State Government. Now state coordinator of the Aboriginal Sport Recreation program, he says his life was transformed by MOSA and the knowledge gained about ‘what it is to be Aboriginal’.

The launch of the science stream coincided with MOSA’s move to the Gallery Building where it was rehoused alongside the Aboriginal Research Centre. Although symbolically significant in the sense that Monash’s Aboriginal programs were now co-located at the ‘front door to the University’ and in its ‘most prestigious building’, the move away from the 6th floor of the Menzies building had the effect of isolating MOSA students from the mainstream. Not that this bothered Hyatt. While studying for his science degree, Hyatt ‘spent every day at MOSA’, utilising the enclave space provided in the Gallery Building. As a MOSA graduate he continued to receive tutoring, and was supported by the welfare fund, but it was the ‘family’ side of things that drew him back. This was MOSA’s ‘parallel function’. Its primary function was academic, to assist ‘Aboriginal people throughout Australia to gain access to tertiary education’; at the same time it aimed ‘to provide personal support and encouragement to Aboriginal students to help them gain the confidence and sense of self-esteem necessary to enable them to compete in the large and demanding world of the University’.

image

Isaac Brown (second from right) and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gerry Hand (second from left) talking with students on the balcony of the Gallery Building at Monash

Source: Monash Archives

Photographer: Richard Crompton

Brown took the pastoral care side of his responsibilities very seriously. He helped the students find housing, manage their money, and dress appropriately – sometimes all at the same time: Ricklefs remembered Brown saying to students from the Northern Territory who were walking around Monash in thongs, shorts and t-shirts, ‘this is the winter time … [let’s] buy you some coats, some warmer clothes and then you won’t need to heat the house to 28 degrees’. A master at cultural negotiation, Brown trained one student from a remote community how to pay, rather than barter, for goods. Nothing was too much trouble: he oversaw a smoking ceremony at the house of a student who felt it contained a malign presence; he took a group of students to the snow who had never experienced it before; he ‘would visit students at midnight if he had to, if something went wrong’; he invited students to his house for meals; and regularly ate dinner at the Monash Halls of Residence in order to provide the Aboriginal students domiciled there with additional support. Students needing extra care were sometimes taken fishing on weekends, the peace and tranquility providing an opportunity for one-on-one mentoring and advice. Being Aboriginal, knowing the circumstances that many of the students came from, understanding the ‘lack of confidence’ that stemmed from being an outsider ‘in that big space’ at Monash, Brown could relate on many levels. His very presence at MOSA encouraged students to challenge themselves. Helen Curzon-Siggers (later Bnads) explained that Brown ‘unleashed … the joyfulness of being in that big place’ by creating a safe space to come back to at MOSA.

When Hyatt, underage and unsure of his Aboriginal heritage, presented for an interview with Brown in 1987 having just failed Year 12, he was more than nervous: ‘I was really scared, you know, I’m fairly fair’. Correctly interpreting the source of Hyatt’s apprehension, Brown handed him a poem, ‘Kooris come in all colours’ (by Carol Kendall) which immediately put him at his ease. Despite being only eighteen years old, Brown supported Hyatt’s admission to the MOSA program. Flexibility with regard to admissions was an important feature of the MOSA program. The majority of students were aged over twenty-one, but exceptions were made on a case-by-case basis. In Hyatt’s case, Brown argued that because he was intending to study science, and because MOSA’s science-stream – which was due to commence that year – took two years to complete, Hyatt would be twenty years old, and therefore a ‘mature’ student, by the time he reached undergraduate studies. It was a winning argument!

Brown’s commitment to student welfare, and level of involvement in their lives, was matched by many of the staff at MOSA. Newton attended social gatherings (housewarmings and ‘Mary Kay’ makeup parties) at students’ houses, and accompanied one student to the ballet to see Giselle. Reed recalled attending NADOC rallies with MOSA students, but it was Angela Risdale who really went the extra mile. Unmarried, Christian and aged in her late fifties, Risdale saw MOSA as a kind of calling: ‘it seemed to me like a life direction’, she recalled. Wanting to ‘make a difference’ in her students’ lives, Risdale helped them to set up their rented homes, providing linen from her own cupboards, tea-sets, cooking equipment, crockery and furniture. Many students developed ‘strong personal relationships’ with her that helped them in times of crisis. The result, as documented in the Jordan review, was that students ‘learned to establish coping mechanisms so that, while always suffering from a lack of financial [security], for most of them this [was] not allowed to reach proportions of a magnitude which would prevent their continuation with the course’.

image

Isaac Brown with MOSA students

Source: Monash Archives

Photographer: Richard Crompton

Ricklefs and Brown were never sure from one year to the next whether the generosity of the welfare fund’s donors (mostly private foundations and individuals) would continue or be enough to cover the needs of the students which, after the foundation year, was expanded to include the needs of all Aboriginal students on campus. At the end 1984, only $435 remained of the $10,500 originally donated. Seeking to ensure the continuation of the welfare fund, and to extend its reach to include scholarships for MOSA graduates, Ricklefs and Brown ventured into the corporate world. They had immediate success with BP. In 1988 and again in 1989, BP contributed $25,000 to the welfare fund. BP’s manager of Government and Public Affairs, Peter Robertson, went even further. He organised and hosted a luncheon with representatives from the corporate sector at BP House in November 1988 to showcase MOSA’s achievements. Two MOSA students, Helen Curzon-Siggers and Trevor Pearce, were invited to speak along with Rickelfs and Brown. Brown had the corporate sponsors ‘eating out of his hand’, Ricklefs recalled. With his ‘impeccable, polished, middle-class accent’, he challenged the image of what ‘an Aboriginal person was supposed to be like’. Within a year Coles Myer were supporting two scholarships ($5000 per student per year) for undergraduates who had completed the MOSA program, and Telecom Australia was providing a scholarship ($10,000 per year) for a MOSA graduate studying engineering. In 1989 BHP also contributed $25,000 to the welfare fund, and underwrote five more bridging scholarships for MOSA students.

At the end 1989 Ricklefs estimated that sixty Aboriginal students, including bridging students and undergraduates, would require assistance from the welfare fund the following year. In order to provide each student an appropriate amount of financial support – calculated to be $150 per month, plus $100 per semester for books – he anticipated a shortfall in funding of $87,000 which Hank Young (a retired farmer who subsequently set up a Charitable Trust for Aboriginal Education and Welfare) generously agreed to provide. As it turned out, twenty fewer Aboriginal students enrolled in 1990 than expected, and so Young was only called upon to provide half this amount. Not to be put off, Young gifted part of the remainder to fund a Law teacher/tutor position at MOSA for the second half of 1990.

image

MOSA students and staff, including: (back row from left) Merle Ricklefs and Robin McNamee; (front row from left) Isaac Brown, Eve Fesl and Helen Curzon-Siggers

Source: Monash Archives

Photographer: Tony Miller

* * *

In April 1988 an Aboriginal Education Policy Task Force was appointed by the Minister for Employment, Education and Training, J.S. Dawkins, and the Minster for Aboriginal Affairs, Gerard Hand, to advise on ‘all aspects of Aboriginal education in Australia, assess the findings of recent research and policy reports, and prepare priorities for the funding of existing programs and new initiatives’. Chaired by Paul Hughes, former chairperson of the National Aboriginal Education Committee, the Task Force was the first stage in the development of a national policy on Aboriginal education. Reviewing the participation of Aboriginal people across all levels of education, the Task Force found the current ‘situation totally unacceptable’:

It is an anathema, as we approach the final decades of the twentieth century, that a developed country like Australia has not managed to extend human rights that are as fundamental as the provision of a basic education to all children and young people in the nation.

Although participation rates had increased markedly over the previous two decades, this was ‘only because the level of Aboriginal participation in education was miniscule’ before. In 1988 Aboriginal people remained ‘the most severely educationally disadvantaged group of people in Australia’. What was needed, the Task Force asserted, was an approach to education that reinforced (rather than suppressed) Aboriginal peoples’ ‘unique cultural identity’, and which grew out of Aboriginal community engagement. Unless the Aboriginal community was ‘fully involved in determining the policies and programs that [were] intended to provide appropriate education for their community’, any new approach would fail.

With reference to higher education, the Task Force recommended that existing arrangements for encouraging Aboriginal participation be reviewed, especially the effectiveness of support services. It further recommended that such services should:

include effective bridging course arrangements which are targeted at the range of professional and other study areas in an institution, and which include both core units in academic preparation and study skills and specialized study units leading to chosen career outcomes.

Rickelfs, pouring over the Task Force report, wrote ‘= MOSA’ in the margin beside this statement. Building on the Task Force report, a ‘National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy’ was launched in October 1989 and implemented the following year. It introduced mainstream funding for Aboriginal participation in higher education on a rolling triennial basis. This provided much needed continuity for MOSA, however, it also had the effect of reducing its viability in the face of increased competition.

While the national policy on Aboriginal education was being developed, the Commonwealth government announced in November 1988 that it would provide over ten million dollars for equity initiatives under its Higher Education Equity Program commencing in 1989. Invited to make a submission, Ricklefs proposed to increase MOSA’s annual intake to 40–60 new candidates each year by introducing a Recruitment Officer whose responsibility would be to find, counsel and encourage promising candidates. His request for Commonwealth funding was denied, but Ricklefs convinced the University to back his plan. Richard Jameson, a MOSA graduate with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, was appointed to the position of MOSA Recruitment Officer in 1990.

The number of students enrolling in MOSA had never been as high as anticipated. After the foundation year in which enrollments were kept deliberately small, an annual intake of 20 students had been expected, but up to 1987 this had not been achieved. Each year a good number of people made enquiries and came to the selection week in December. However, between then and the beginning of studies in March, a substantial proportion decided not to proceed. While this could be, and was, seen as positive, in the sense that people who felt unable to adapt to the demands of university excluded themselves, it had the effect of making MOSA a very expensive program to run: per head, Ricklefs estimated that each MOSA student cost approximately double that of an undergraduate student in Arts. Following the introduction of the science-stream, student numbers grew to twenty-four in 1989, nineteen in humanities and five in science. However, of these, only ten humanities students and three science students finished the year. This trend continued, and in fact worsened over the following years.

The year 1990 was a poor one for MOSA, with a higher rate of failure than had ever been true in the past. In mid 1990, Brown resigned to take up a position at the newly established Northern Territory University. For him it was a matter of going home, yet the timing made it look like he was abandoning a scheme that he and Ricklefs had represented as being more successful than it now seemed. While the long and difficult search for Brown’s successor was conducted, Nelson served as Acting Director of MOSA. In February 1991 John Austin was appointed to the position of Director. A Monash graduate, Austin had worked at the ARC during Bourke’s time as Director, and had taught at Swinburne and Monash. He had also worked at the Aboriginal Development Commission, the Northern Land Council and the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory. Sir Richard Eggleston thought him an excellent appointment, and Ricklefs and Nelson were also delighted to have him on board. It was not long, however, before cracks began to appear; Brown’s shoes were big ones to fill. Conflict arose between Austin and several members of the MOSA staff, including Brown’s former secretary, Juanita Page, whom Austin formally reprimanded in May 1991 for typing ‘things that [were] critical of MOSA and the Director’. A grievance committee was appointed towards the end of the year and two MOSA teachers were redeployed, but the problems persisted. Early in 1992, Austin was suspended and later resigned.

Acting Director of MOSA, Dr Eve Fesl, implemented a number of procedural changes that helped to restore the stability of the program, but the damage caused during the period 1991–92 had wider effects. Reed recalled a meeting with Gary Foley in 1992 in which the longtime activist insisted on knowing ‘Are you with Austin or against him?’: Reed gave the right answer, and so the meeting went ahead. Later Foley publically accused Monash of misappropriating ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars of Aboriginal education monies via phantom “Aboriginal” students’, but his allegations proved groundless. In 1993, thirty applications for entry into MOSA were received. Fesl applied the rigorous selection criteria that MOSA was known for, and ten students were selected. Of these, one student withdrew on the first day of the academic year, and two subsequently withdrew for reasons of ill-health, leaving just seven students.

Accounting for this ‘unacceptably low’ rate of enrollment, Sue Campbell, Associate Professor of Law and Chair of the MOSA Committee from 1993, pointed to the ‘negative perceptions of MOSA which [had] spread throughout the entire Aboriginal community’ in the wake of Austin’s suspension and resignation. Increased competition from new tertiary programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people established across the country was also a factor. It was clear that changes to the recruitment process needed to be made. From 1994, MOSA was extended to include Aboriginal people aged eighteen and over with or without high school certificates, and greater emphasis was placed on attracting students from Victoria. In direct contrast to Ricklefs’ approach of seeking students from far afield in order to reduce the demands of family, the new MOSA Director, Helen Curzon-Siggers (later Bnads), felt that a ‘national strategy’ for students was unwise. In her view, travelling away from home for study was ‘not advantageous’ to most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whose sense of loneliness when separated from kinship networks created ‘emotional problems’ that deflected from the focus of study.

One of the issues that contributed to the difficulties of 1991 was the lack of clear management, supervisory and reporting guidelines for the MOSA Director. Ricklefs and Brown had worked so well together that this had not come up as an issue until after Brown left. A solution was found in the creation of a new position, Head of Aboriginal Programs, designed to formally recognise and institutionalise Ricklefs’ coordinating role in overseeing the budgetary allocation between MOSA, the Gippsland Centre for Koori Studies and the Koori Research Centre, and provide line-management support for the MOSA Director. As Head of Aboriginal Programs, Ricklefs oversaw the creation of statements of MOSA’s Vision, Goals and Strategies that helped to redefine and clarify the program’s role and objectives moving forward. He also drafted Monash’s ‘Aboriginal Education Strategy Plan’.

Under the National Aboriginal Education Policy, all universities were required to develop Aboriginal education strategies as part of their profile documentation. In Monash’s case, compiling the document helped to bring together the various strands that had surfaced in the wake of the merger with the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education and Chisholm Institute of Technology, and make a virtue of their disparate approaches. Highlighting ‘the wide range of styles’ covered by Monash’s Aboriginal programs, Ricklefs pointed out that while Gippsland offered a ‘community-based Associate Diploma course tailored to meet local Aboriginal needs’, MOSA provided access to mainstream tertiary award courses at all Monash campuses. In drafting the strategy plan, Ricklefs identified a need for an Aboriginal liaison officer at the former Chisholm campuses of Caulfield and Frankston, and Sonia Smallcombe, a MOSA graduate with a degree in Arts, was appointed.

Ricklefs left Monash in 1993 to take up a position as Director of the Research School of Pacific Studies at the ANU. The responsibility of Head of Aboriginal Programs was given to Professor Lachlan Chipman, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Gippsland). Fesl resigned as Acting Director of MOSA in April that year, and left the University soon after. Her assistant, Helen Curzon-Siggers, was promoted to Acting Director of MOSA. Curzon-Siggers knew MOSA intimately having been a student in its third-intake in 1986. She went on to study in the Arts Faculty and was awarded her BA degree in 1991. Following the award of her degree, she reflected that MOSA had taught her ‘to confront the past and just basically “get on with it” – attack wholeheartedly the future’. Within days of her promotion Curzon-Siggers ‘opened direct communication with all areas of the MOSA unit’, and arranged weekly meetings with staff and students, both MOSA and Aboriginal undergraduates. The result on the morale of the unit was felt immediately.

‘New MOSA’

Curzon-Siggers’ appointment as Acting Director (later Director) of MOSA ushered in a new period of stability for the program in terms of leadership, but turbulence in other areas continued. During the first half of 1994, the ABC’s current affairs television program The 7.30 Report dealt MOSA’s reputation a further damaging blow. Based on claims made by former and current students, The 7.30 Report alleged that MOSA was not achieving its stated aim of producing Aboriginal graduates, and criticised the unit for failing to provide adequate support for Aboriginal undergraduates. The University was criticised over its use of Commonwealth funds for Aboriginal students, and for failing to employ Aboriginal teaching staff. Although Campbell was able to refute most of The 7.30 Report’s allegations, the impact of her rejoinder was limited by its focus on technical matters of nuance and detail.

The 7.30 Report’s criticisms provided an opportunity to take stock of MOSA’s achievements, and think of new ways of promoting it to the general public. Towards the end of 1994, a logo was developed which signified the ‘new MOSA’. The design, an earthworm image with ‘several tracks – one pathway’, was Curzon-Siggers’ idea. Each concentric circle represented a different aspect of the MOSA family – students from various backgrounds, the university, the MOSA enclave; the dots represented the MOSA teachers and staff; and the lines represented the steps to achievement. Applied to specially designed posters, brochures, plaques, t-shirts, tablecloths, and stationery, and coupled with the slogan ‘Creating Opportunities’, the MOSA earthworm logo was an important first step in the rebranding of MOSA as a relevant and important provider of pre-tertiary education for Aboriginal people. More than that, according to Curzon-Siggers, it symbolised ‘the commencement of a sense of identity for all those connected with the MOSA unit’.

MOSA received a further boost in 1995 with the graduation of two students as Bachelors of Law. Both students entered MOSA as mature age women and completed Bachelor of Arts degrees before commencing Law. Their achievements in the face of considerable personal difficulties were a great source of pride to MOSA staff and inspiration to MOSA students.

There was no doubt that MOSA in the mid 1990s was a different program from the one that commenced a decade earlier, ‘the needs of the Aboriginal community [having] dictated changes in the subjects that were taught’. In 1994, in response to student requests for the inclusion of business management in the MOSA program, Curzon-Siggers hired a new teacher and changed the curriculum. However, despite the new course, the new image and the best efforts of the Director and staff, the numbers of students completing MOSA kept dropping. Twenty-four students commenced the bridging program in 1994, but only fourteen completed. When eleven out of twenty-two students withdrew from study before the middle of the following year, leaving none enrolled in the science stream, Curzon-Siggers was forced to temporarily suspend the science program. The next year, with no students interested in enrolling in science, Campbell and Curzon-Siggers decided that ‘the time has come to acknowledge that the MOSA Science program has not succeeded’. Student numbers had always been low, and very few who passed the two-year course went on to study science at university. By contrast, the new business management course seemed to be thriving. Expanded into a stream parallel to the humanities stream in 1996, that year eight out of thirteen students elected to take Business Studies. The number who sat for final exams told a different story, however: only seven students, three in Business Studies and four in Humanities, completed the year.

Persistently low student numbers could not be ignored. During 1995 and 1996 hard questions were asked by members of the MOSA Committee about recruitment, retention and success rates. No-one doubted that Curzon-Siggers was doing all she could to promote the program and retain students, but it was clear that something was not working. Speaking from the vantage point of his association with MOSA over ten years, Andrew Markus queried ‘the success of the unit of terms of available Aboriginal dollars’, and asked whether some of the students admitted to MOSA ‘should be in the course at all’. While he advocated ‘a more rigourous selection’ process, other members of the Committee favoured streaming the less-able students into an expanded two-year Humanities program. But this was not what students wanted. Among the reasons noted for MOSA’s low rate of enrolment was a preference for ‘the TAFE system of education, where HECS fees was not an issue’. Coupled with the fact that there were now similar programs to MOSA ‘in each state and people [were] not prepared to leave their birth state of origin’, it meant that MOSA had fewer students to choose from.

When MOSA began, it was the only university offering a pretertiary bridging program. Now there were so many options for Aboriginal students seeking tertiary education that MOSA’s recruitment drive consisted of a ‘roadshow’, with Monash one of numerous institutions competing for Aboriginal students from a dwindling pool. Seeking ways to extend MOSA’s influence and relevance, Curzon-Siggers instigated an active program of community outreach. MOSA teachers were sent to schools to give lectures on Aboriginal history and culture, and Aboriginal community members were invited to MOSA to view the program for themselves.

Within the university, Curzon-Siggers, who had worked as a nurse before enrolling in MOSA, began teaching an innovative Indigenous Health option to 3rd Year Medical students. At the same time, she began recasting MOSA as more than a bridging course, highlighting its role a ‘resource centre’ and stressing that MOSA acted a ‘central point of information for the general community’:

The MOSA Unit provides the focus for a safe place of inquiry and an encouraging environment for non-Aboriginal people to meet and communicate with Indigenous students and staff. In terms of genuine reconciliation between black and white Australians, MOSA is the conduit and facilitator of necessary and positive change.

In support of reconciliation, information packs on Indigenous issues were produced at MOSA during 1997 and distributed to departments in the Faculty of Arts. That year students from the Business Management Course opened a MOSA shop on the 2nd floor of the Gallery Building selling goods made exclusively by Australian Indigenous people, including: boomerangs, carved emu eggs, silk scarves, didgeridoos and tablecloths.

Curzon-Siggers’ positive attitude, energy and absolute devotion to MOSA held the unit together, but even she could not ignore the fact that its primary purpose was no longer being met. In March 1997, she took on the additional duties of Director of the Koorie Research Centre. In May Professor Colin Bourke and Associate Professor Eleanor Bourke commenced a review of Monash’s Aboriginal Programs. As discussed in the following chapter, the consultants concluded that a ‘more rational use of resources’ was called for. There was no denying that MOSA was over-resourced and under-achieving. In addition to Curzon-Siggers, MOSA employed five teachers and three general staff members for a cohort of seven students in 1997, only six of whom sat the end of year exams. The Bourkes recommended that MOSA’s staffing levels be significantly reduced, and that a student enrolment of twenty be MOSA’s target for 1998. Recognising the need for change, Curzon-Siggers embraced the Bourkes’ recommendations; she looked ‘forward with enthusiasm to 1998 and directing the modifications to the MOSA program’. This opportunity, however, was denied to her. When only nine applications were received for admission to MOSA in 1998, the bridging program was suspended and eventually disbanded.

MOSA served an important purpose. For most of the students who completed the one or two-year program, its effect was transformative. Even some of those who did not complete the program found their lives, and the lives of their children, changed by the program and the opportunities it presented. While the lack of sustained growth over its fourteen-year lifespan suggests that it was not the great success its founders hoped and claimed it to be, its role in introducing hundreds of Aboriginal people to tertiary education cannot be denied or discounted. Aboriginal engagement with university education is a complex issue: the question of whether to seek recruits from far afield, as Ricklefs and Brown thought, or locally as Curzon-Siggers argued, symbolised this complexity. Cultural and kinship issues justified both approaches and neither was more or less successful. In the end, falling enrolments made it clear that the Aboriginal community ‘wanted different types of educational avenues’. With MOSA out of business, the University was forced to seek other ways to bridge the educational divide.

Making a Difference: Fifty Years of Indigenous Programs at Monash University, 1964–2014

   by Rani Kerin