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The Wollotuka Institute celebrates remarkable 40-year milestone

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The University of Newcastle and our broader communities are proud to mark the 40th anniversary of the esteemed Wollotuka Institute. 

Two celebrations, a public event and an invitational dinner, will be held at the University’s Callaghan Campus this month.

Since 1983, the Wollotuka Institute has operated as a support centre for Indigenous students studying at the University of Newcastle and has grown to be a sector-leading example of First Nations excellence.

Head of Institute, Associate Professor Kathleen Butler, said the important achievement had not been an overnight success. 

“The 40th anniversary is an exciting opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the thousands of First Nations students, graduates, staff and community members that have been part of the Wollotuka Institute and the stories that shaped the formidable legacy it upholds today,” Associate Professor Butler said.

“Our success is a reflection of the tireless and dedicated work of trailblazers before us.” 

Wollotuka began in 1983 as a support program for Indigenous students on what was then the campus of Newcastle College of Advanced Education. The program not only survived the years of change – when NCAE became the Hunter Institute of Higher Education and subsequently amalgamated with the University of Newcastle – it thrived.  

Now, the University of Newcastle boasts the largest number of Indigenous student enrolments in the country and excels across student recruitment, support, retention, community engagement and higher degree research.

For Worimi/Wiradjuri man, Jodan Perry, the Institute has been part of his family for three generations.

“It all started with my nan and our matriarch, Colleen Perry, who always instilled in us the value of education, despite not being allowed to study beyond the third grade herself,” he said.

“She was, and still is, heavily involved with the Wollotuka Institute, and has received awards here and abroad for her lifelong commitment to Indigenous education. 

“My dad, Joe, was also part of Wollotuka for 27 years. I was able to come here to study my communication degree back in 2012 and my sister Gabrielle completed a Bachelor of Medicine in 2017 and is now specialising in Ophthalmology.” 

Mr Perry went on to have a successful 12 years in broadcast media as a presenter, journalist and digital executive across NITV, the ABC, Ch9 and Sky News. This year, he has followed in his family’s footsteps and has taken a position as a lecturer and researcher at the Wollotuka Institute. 

“I wouldn’t have made it through the tertiary system without the support network Wollotuka provides and I’m proud to be part of what has been built here,” Mr Perry said. 

In the language of the Awabakal people, on whose land the current Birabahn building stands, ‘Wollotuka’ means ‘eating and meeting place’ and has been a culturally-safe and inclusive place for all.

The Wollotuka Institute is a cornerstone of the University of Newcastle, according to Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Alex Zelinsky AO. 

"The University of Newcastle is proud of the continued and unwavering efforts of the Wollotuka Institute over the past 40 years which has driven our success in Indigenous higher education, innovation and engagement,” Professor Alex Zelinsky said.  

“Universities must do more than help First Nations students find their place at University - we also have a responsibility to provide a culturally-safe environment that supports students to succeed in their studies,” Professor Alex Zelinsky said.  

“Students who study with us, succeed with us - thanks to the support and expertise we’ve built over four decades at Wollotuka.” 

“We are committed to providing nurturing environments and providing more pathways for success. We will build on our past achievements to create bigger and wider partnerships with the Indigenous peoples of our regions and beyond,” Professor Alex Zelinsky said.