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Fiji tour proves revealing for Indigenous students

A New Colombo Plan mobility study tour to Fiji has helped a group of Australian undergraduates gain a deeper appreciation of their own Indigenous culture.

Group of 32 people posing for a photo.
New Colombo Plan mobility students with their Fijian hosts in the traditional Fijian village of Navala, Ba (Viti Levu).

For Malachi Murljacic, a proud Indigenous man with ties to the Kaurna people of South Australia and Koori people of New South Wales, and now studying at the University of Canberra, the opportunities to engage with Indigenous people of Fiji was a predominant highlight.

"I was able to make many comparisons between Indigenous Australians and the iTaukei, as well as realizing vast differences. The ability to network and communicate with local Fijians allowed us to learn through the personal experiences and opinions of the people we met. The trip has allowed me the unique opportunity to see many places throughout Viti Levu and learn of culture, place and people."

Malachi was one of 12 students from the University of Canberra and the University of Western Australia to undertake research into how Indigenous knowledge was being advanced and protected in Fiji.

The program ran over ten days and included visiting Indigenous Fijian enterprises, cultural institutions and cultural sites of significance. The visiting group was supported by staff and students from Fiji National University and the University of South Pacific.

For Fred Leftwich, who is descended from the Butchulla, Kuku Langi and Doomage nations of Queensland, the trip to Fiji gave him greater perspective on his own heritage and inspired him to write books on Australian Indigenous nations.

Fred left the public service after 30 years to pursue his first undergraduate degree in sociology. He will be starting his honours degree soon and intends to complete a PhD in Indigenous studies.

Nineteen-year-old Jai Cornish-Martin, from Bourke in far Western New South Wales, is in his second undergraduate year at the University of Canberra, studying a double degree in exercise physiology and rehabilitation and psychology.

He said the tour enabled him to become more in touch with his own Indigenous culture, whilst engaging, learning and contrasting the Fijian Indigenous culture to his own.

"Going forward, the experiences I gained and learnings I engaged in whilst on this trip will undoubtedly help me to support the next generation of Indigenous youth coming through to succeed and thrive in becoming role models for Australia and the world."

Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Cultural Heritage at the University of Canberra Scott Heyes said more Indigenous students would travel to remote parts of Fiji over the next two years to live amongst, and learn from, their Indigenous Fijian counterparts.

"We are fortunate that the Fiji National University have arranged for staff and students to be part of this learning experience."

Internships with Fijian communities, agencies and enterprises will also feature in the expanded project.

Last Updated: 13 July 2018
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