More than 250 people packed the Rumbalara Football Netball Club rooms for the ninth Dungala Kaiela Oration in July.

A joint initiative of the Kaiela Institute and the University of Melbourne, the annual event aims to open a broader conversation about Greater Shepparton. Kaiela institute board director Tui Crumpen said prosperity and economic development had long been at the forefront of these discussions. “For a long time indigenous people sat on the fringes for various reasons affecting people’s lives, so the conversation has been around how do we try and engage a lot more with the economy,” Tui said.

“It’s not just the indigenous person getting a job but filtering right through to management understanding about indigenous people and culture and their aspirations.” Tui said each year, a prominent guest speaker delivered the oration to get the indigenous community thinking outside of the box. “They are there to not necessarily have the discussion with you but to generate it among ourselves,” she said. “Not everyone always agrees either and that’s what generates the discussion. You turn to the person next to you and you get chatting and test each other’s ideas.”

This year was no different, with the University of Melbourne’s Professor Marcia Langton delivering the key address. Prof Langton is among one of the first professors of indigenous studies in Australia and her speech, titled From the margins to the mainstream: Indigenous recovery in rural Australia, proposed education targets for local indigenous youth and adults that would help Greater Shepparton close the gap sooner than other regional areas. “We know that higher education achievement among the indigenous population closes the gap,” Prof Langton said during her address. “Indigenous people who complete higher education awards close the gap.”

Prof Langton said data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2016 indicated the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons in Greater Shepparton was growing, especially in the youth category. “This growth in the youth population presents a number of challenges, most important of which is the capacity to ensure that they achieve high educational standards,” she said. “There is no valid reason why there should be any disparity in educational outcomes between the indigenous and non-indigenous people in this town.”

“Fear and doubt are not insurmountable. Effective leadership and teamwork make champions.” Next year will be the 10th instalment of the Dungala Kaiela Oration and Tui said planning was well under way for the important occasion.

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