First Nations artist/elder earns doctorate from USC | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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First Nations artist/elder earns doctorate from USC

An Aboriginal elder who grew up in Cherbourg has combined 40 years of dedication to art and education into a PhD – the first in her family.

“How do I feel? Like I’ve finished a race,” said a beaming Hope O’Chin after the recent USC Sunshine Coast graduation ceremony.

“I’ve graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy and here’s my second youngest child, Kerry, to watch it happen. It’s just one of those things I never thought I’d be able to achieve.”

Dr O’Chin gained her first qualification, a teaching diploma, in Townsville in 1981 and had an executive career in the state education system. She is a professional artist who has shown her works in 42 exhibitions locally and internationally.

“I always wanted to finish my academic path and as a Kabi Kabi, Kos, Wakka-Wakka, Koa First Nation member, it seemed right to study at USC, on the lands of my mother’s family heritage,” said the Sunshine Coast resident.

“There were lots of opportunities to learn from a diverse range of students here.”

Kerry Neill, an educator and trainer, said USC had supported his mother’s ambition. “Mum’s been a great inspiration to us – the first one in the family to get a doctorate. We’re so proud of her.”

Dr O’Chin’s PhD was a narrative history, both personal and political, that drew from the Cherbourg experience to demonstrate the knowledge derived and shared through First Nations educational and art practice.

Supervised by Senior Lecturer Dr Clare Archer-Lean, the research showed how artworks, storylines, songlines and ceremonies helped maintain Kabi Kabi culture during colonial oppression and dislocation.

Dr O’Chin said she found the cultural knowledge had endured despite barriers such as Aboriginal people being legally deemed non-citizens until the 1967 referendum.

“This exclusion from the heart of Australian society and therefore from its national identity both represented and generated accompanying racism,” she said. “I believe the way back – towards inclusion – involves art and education.”

Dr O’Chin said she hoped the findings of her degree could be included in school curricula.

Register for USC’s interactive online Open Day on Sunday 18 July.

Professor of Education Research Catherine Manathunga  (left) and graduate Dr Hope O'Chin
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