Our vision for reconciliation

Reconciliation at the University of South Australia (UniSA) means ensuring an environment where two-way knowledge sharing, and respect for our collective histories and cultures, are common practice in our learning journey.

We continue to be a University of Choice for Aboriginal Peoples. To us this means that we continue to build an ethical and respectful community that is culturally intelligent and inclusive; recognises and enables the varied pathways to higher education and celebrates lived experiences; and empowers individual choice, aspiration and success. We actively promote Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples coming together in the spirit of reciprocity. We are continuing to work collaboratively across our teaching, research, employment, and community engagement activities for the benefit and self-determination of First Nations Peoples across Australia now and into the future.

A partnered approach

The Stretch RAP 2023-2025 was a two-way collaboration, led by Aboriginal Peoples, including Elders, and with representation from across our community. Development of the plan was led by Professor David Lloyd, Vice Chancellor and President, and RAP Champion, in partnership with Professor Irene Watson, the Pro Vice Chancellor: Aboriginal Leadership and Strategy, and Uncle David Rathman and Vanessa Matthews, the RAP Co-Chairs. The plan’s development was conducted in consultation and with oversight and input from Yaitya Warra-itya (the RAP Work Group), the Purkarninthi in Residence, and the University community. Broad participation and consultation was undertaken from Council, Enterprise Leadership Team, through to the student cohort, and their feedback is included and woven throughout.

The Stretch RAP 2023-2025 is a plan for the UniSA community. While a responsible individual(s) has been identified for each commitment, we recognise that engagement with and participation across the University and our community will be crucial to achieve our aspirations. This partnered approach will allow for a more robust dissemination and implementation of the plan across the University, while at the same time providing an opportunity for more staff to be visible advocates of the plan and the commitments contained within.

Our RAP journey, including achievements, learnings and challenges

Dr Uncle Lewis Yarlupurka O’Brien, AO and Fellow of UniSA, tells from his Kaurna perspective the story of teaching and learning and the ‘two-ness’ of education. Give a child a piece of string and they will observe and play with it. Teach the child a game with the string and their learning will grow; and if you change the rules to the game, the child will adapt. It is the concept of Nindi – the Kaurna phrase for ‘becoming’ or ‘transferred into’ – which says that education is a two-step process composed of theoretical teachings, and practical application. Teaching is the first step in a person’s education and it is finite, but learning – or step two, the hands-on experience – is limitless. Simply put, Uncle Lewis’ story reminds us that RAPs (and the commitments contained within) guide and teach us, but our reconciliation journey is continuous and must be based on action.

unisa_rap-2014.jpgOur first RAP – an Innovate plan, released in 2014 – was built on our founding legislation and provided the scaffold for cultural change at the University. The plan prioritised initiatives that sought to teach and build greater respect and awareness of Aboriginal Peoples and cultures in the community. As a sample, through the plan’s delivery, we formalised cultural sensitivity and respect training; commissioned a musical composition to play at graduation ceremonies; established the Deadly Alumni Network to support graduates and share their stories and successes; and celebrated National Reconciliation Week (NRW) and NAIDOC together across our campuses.


Our second plan – a stretch plan, released in 2018 – leveraged our teachings and learning gained, and set new commitments to ensure that Aboriginal voices and knowledges were elevated and valued, and that a true two-way approach was employed in education, research, engagement and governance at the University. We celebrated many successes. We established the Purkarninthi in Residence and Yaitya Warra-itya, Aboriginal-led advisory bodies to the University’s senior leaders; reviewed our Aboriginal curriculum; dedicated the Lewis O’Brien/Yarlupurka Building; expanded the breadth and reach of our cultural awareness, sensitivity and respect trainings, to build a foundation for a cultural training suite; released Yurirka: Proppa Engagement with Aboriginal Peoples; and launched the Aboriginal Research Strategy, to name a few.

Importantly, it must be said that we also experienced challenges and barriers in the delivery of some of our aspirations in the Stretch RAP 2018-2021. This was in large part due the transformation of the University’s academic structure at the start, and in the later stages of the plan, the pandemic, when we had to adapt to redirect staff and financial resources to immediate priorities and pressing need. In hindsight, while we were delayed in progressing select initiatives, we realised that several of our foundational commitments were ambitious, and resource and time intensive. The redirection of resources provided time to collectively pause, reflect and recalibrate, to respond to the current landscape, and also the needs of our University community. The result was a cultural shift at UniSA.

We’re seeing commitments to Aboriginal advancement and reconciliation integrated into daily business, at all levels, and filtered across all academic and professional areas at the University; and as a whole, there is greater visibility and shared ownership of the plan. In addition, we are in-step with the broader higher education sector, and positioned to lead in this next chapter. There remain a few commitments from the RAP 2018-2021 that are still in progress that have been carried over and embedded into the Stretch RAP 2023-2025. In some instances, commitments have been refined to reflect progress achieved, but the intent of each remains unchanged. These commitments are denoted as ‘RAP 2018-2021 Action’.

The Stretch RAP 2023-2025 provides the opportunity to celebrate our achievements and reflect on our teachings and our learnings thus far, whilst also recognising that our learning is far from over and there’s work still to do in advancing Aboriginal education at the University. The Stretch RAP 2023-2025 is committed to advancing the Aboriginal Knowledges Centre that was first introduced in the Stretch RAP 2018-2021, and which will centre and enable Aboriginal ways of knowing across the University. The centre will be an intellectual and interdisciplinary space for the University and community to gather, to foster an appreciation and understanding of Aboriginal teaching, research, innovation and sustainability; and will be the catalyst for our vision for advancing Aboriginal futures and education. The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will be founded within an environment of respectful relationships and reciprocity in which recognition of Aboriginal ownership of knowledge and two-way knowledge sharing and understanding are common practice; and which will provide a safe space to enable and advance positive Aboriginal futures that are determined by Aboriginal Peoples.

  • Focus Area 1: Aboriginal Knowledges, Cultures and Engagement minus-thick plus-thick

    The importance of creating a strong Aboriginal Knowledges Centre is to enable engagement with Aboriginal knowledges, which provides us with another way of knowing, being and doing. To give an example, consider the meaning of ‘ngapartji’, which translates to ‘you give me, I give you’ and highlights the importance of reciprocity. ‘Ngapartji-ngapartji’ is a Pitjantjatjara word which illustrates a way of knowing and being. Reciprocity – the word, definition and application – can vary between language groups, but the principle is a core and shared understanding across Aboriginal Nations. In the spirit of ‘ngapartji’, this shared value, UniSA will respectfully engage with Aboriginal Peoples and their knowledge systems and will embed the ethical principle of reciprocity within our teaching and research practice.

    The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will become an interdisciplinary centre that informs UniSA’s Aboriginal research and teaching pedagogy. As a whole-of-university, intercultural space, the centre will champion UniSA’s two-way approach to curricula development and contribute to the western academy’s understanding of Aboriginal knowledges and cultural competence. It will also build respectful relationships with Aboriginal Peoples and host a multidisciplinary in-residence visiting program, bringing focus to UniSA’s engagement with Aboriginal Peoples.

    The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will expand, develop and advance the content for Aboriginal cultural awareness training for staff and ensure Aboriginal knowledges content is included across UniSA curricula, by supporting the following approach and actions.

  • Focus Area 2: Place and Language minus-thick plus-thick

    Language is the gateway to Aboriginal knowledges. Recognising and respecting Aboriginal Peoples’ relationships to Country is a significant aspect of reconciliation and the foundation for the Aboriginal Knowledges Centre. UniSA acknowledges that its campuses exist on the lands of the Kaurna, Boandik and Barngarla Peoples and visually demonstrates respect for Place and Language through physical signage, dual naming of buildings, installations and artworks on each campus. But more needs to continue to be done in realising Aboriginal Peoples’ relationships to Country.

    While a physical space for the Aboriginal Knowledges Centre is essential, it is the centre that will connect and be a conduit across the whole of UniSA. Our principles and aspirations will be apparent within the centre and will make connections to and across all UniSA campuses and spaces (be it physical or virtual), to showcase a welcoming, supportive and safe environment in which Aboriginal protocols, languages and cultures are respectfully celebrated in all spaces, while also ensuring that we provide culturally safe Aboriginal staff and student-centred learning and public spaces across all campuses.

    As place matters, the languages of place equally matter. The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will be a catalyst or centre for all students, staff and community members, who will experience a two-way learning approach, and come to learn and respectfully share Aboriginal knowledges, languages and cultures along with Aboriginal protocols of engagement.

  • Focus Area 3: Aboriginal Education minus-thick plus-thick

    The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will support our engagement with Aboriginal students in providing an environment that is respectful and culturally safe. The centre will inform and advise the University in providing students with diverse academic learning environments in which Aboriginal ethics, protocols, cultures, histories and knowledges are embedded in both the teaching curricula and approaches to Aboriginal research. It’s crucial that students have access to a comprehensive curriculum and inclusive educational environment, to inform their learning, practice and engagement at the University, and more broadly, in our communities and society.

    The centre will support and inform programs for both students and staff, providing a two-way knowledges approach.

  • Focus Area 4: Aboriginal Governance, Evaluation and Reporting minus-thick plus-thick

    The Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will provide leadership and direction in advancing the UniSA two-way approach. A critical aspect of that is to ensure we embed culturally appropriate governance approaches that enable the self-determination of Aboriginal Peoples. UniSA is committed to advancing an Aboriginal governance structure to bring focus and attention to outcomes that benefit Aboriginal Peoples and their communities. This structure (see below) will reflect Aboriginal approaches to governance and enable a two-way exchange of knowledge that is centred on relationship building. UniSA is creating space for a relational model to work in parallel with the formal governance structure, in order to forge new ways of understanding and enacting good governance. That is good governance that is reciprocal and acknowledges and respects Aboriginal self-determination.

    The model will provide oversight for all Aboriginal-specific strategies and ensure that Aboriginal voices are reflected within the existing University decision-making structures. It will also ensure that the focus on relationship building is embedded at local, regional and institutional levels.

  • Focus Area 5: Aboriginal Research minus-thick plus-thick

    Aboriginal research is research that relates to Aboriginal Peoples, their nations, communities, languages, places, cultures and knowledges. Aboriginal research is what incorporates and utilises Aboriginal methodologies, ways of knowing, theories, practice and is undertaken with or led by Aboriginal Peoples, nations or communities. Historically, research has negatively impacted the lives and cultures of Aboriginal Peoples, positioning them, for example, as being the most globally researched of human subjects. Research has an impact on Aboriginal lives, communities, and the physical, social and political environments in which Aboriginal Peoples live and work.

    The Aboriginal Research Strategy embeds a whole-of-university approach, and the Aboriginal Knowledges Centre will provide an Aboriginal centre that will inform and provide advice across UniSA. This will ensure research is ethical, culturally safe, and benefits and enhances the self-determination and lives of Aboriginal Peoples and their communities. The centre will provide guidelines that will support and equip non-Aboriginal researchers to engage both respectfully and ethically with Aboriginal Peoples and their knowledge systems. The Stretch RAP 2023–2025 reinforces the strategic actions outlined in the Aboriginal Research Strategy and aims to further advance the commitments under each core pillar of the plan:

    • Building institutional cultural competency
    • Conducting research the ‘proppa’ way from an Aboriginal perspective
    • Securing a future for Aboriginal Peoples and Aboriginal research
    • Advancing an Aboriginal governance and engagement structure, which promotes Aboriginal leadership and reflects an Aboriginal approach to governance.