Heartfelt award as ancient traditions come together
REAL emotion underpinned the presentation to Gympie Aboriginal elder Lillian Burke of one of the highest awards of the University of the Sunshine Coast on Thursday.
Tears flowed as youth support worker Ray Gibb took her part in the award ceremony, held at Gympie State High School's Hamilton Hall.
And the university's northern campus executive Graham Young told of his personal appreciation of Aunty Lillian's contribution to encouraging young Aboriginal students to study and move on to university.
He revealed that he was the person who nominated her for the award, which named her a Senior Fellow of the university, in recognition of her "significant and sustained contribution.”
It was clear the ceremony was much more than a formality, though formal it was.
The ceremony began and ended with an Academic Procession, an ancient ceremony practised in most of the world's major universities.
Led by Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic, Prof Tim Wess, the procession occupied the Hamilton Hall stage as Gympie Kabi Kabi representative Russell Bennett performed a Wecome to Country.
School principal Anthony Lansky said Aunty Lillian had "worked tirelessly to promote, support, mentor and educate hundreds of young people across our community”.
He described her as "an integral member” of the school community.
"She has been the link in bringing hundreds of students - indigenous and non-indigenous - to understanding and embracing the world's oldest continuous culture.”
He quoted former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, from his historic "Sorry” speech in federal parliament, in which Australia apologised to our First Nations people.
"We look to a future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity,” he said.