Aunty Barbara Nicholson

Honorary Doctor of Laws

Citation delivered by Professor Warwick Gullett, Dean of the School of Law at the University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Barbara Nicholson as a Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) on 25 July 2014.


Deputy Chancellor, I present Barbara Nicholson.
Too often, the remarkable achievements of the more modest amongst us go unrecognised. Too often, the perseverance, the generosity, the selflessness, the dedication and the enduring impact of those without big egos or exalted offices aren’t honoured and celebrated as they should be. It is timely then, that today, in recognising Aunty Barbara Nicholson, we honour a leader, a teacher, a poet, an advocate and an inspirational role model - a woman whose thirst for knowledge and learning, and deep commitment to justice, spurred her to great accomplishment.
Born on the Aboriginal reserve at Kemblawarra, Barbara was fortunate to have a mother who, denied the opportunity to pursue higher learning herself, rose above great personal adversity to instil in her daughter the importance of education. We acknowledge those who cannot be here today, who have guided and inspired Barbara throughout her life, leaving their indelible mark. It is fitting that many of Barbara’s children and grandchildren are here to share this special day with her, they are a source of great pride to her and are a key part of her journey of achievement.
Barbara’s foray into higher education as a mature age student began with the Open Foundation of the University of Newcastle, where she later went on to complete an Arts degree with a triple major in literature. Waking up at 3am to study, something many mature age students with children would appreciate, Barbara was driven by the desire to soak up knowledge.
Barbara’s relationship with the University of Wollongong began nearly two decades ago and over the years has included time spent as a lecturer in Aboriginal studies, history, law and literature, serving as an Honorary Senior Fellow in the Faculty of Business and Law since 1999 and a member of UOW’s Human Research Ethics Committee since 2006. It is a relationship we treasure.
Aunty Barbara has often ensured that our spiritual wellbeing is cared for during our stay on this sacred land. She has shared with countless UOW staff, students and visitors the significance of Mount Keira in Wadi Wadi culture as a grandmother and has often remarked that it is no accident that this place of learning sits at the feet of grandmother mountain, who watches over and nurtures all that goes on here.
In addition to her achievements as an educator, Barbara has excelled in the arts as a poet and as a champion and mentor of Aboriginal writing. Her scholarship and creative writing is widely published and has been presented at numerous national and international conferences. She serves on the Board of the South Coast Writers Centre and is a member of the Black Wallaby Indigenous Writers Group and the First Nations Australia Writers Network.
For decades, Barbara Nicholson has been at the forefront of grass-roots campaign to achieve justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. She was a driving force behind Link-Up, an organisation committed to reuniting and supporting families and individuals affected by Australia’s removal policies. Her commitment to tackling the over-representation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system saw her give many years of service to the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, and bring tertiary education and creative writing opportunities to Koori prison inmates.
Support for Barbara’s award has come from a wide variety of friends, colleagues and former students from within UOW, and across the Australian higher education, government and community sectors. All who have had the fortune to cross paths with Barbara are indebted to her for her energy, patience, unstinting generosity and intellectual insight; for her wisdom and warmth, her passionate advocacy, her dignity and grace.
Deputy Chancellor, for her significant and ongoing service to the University of Wollongong and her outstanding contribution to law and social justice in Australia, it is my honour and privilege to present Aunty Barbara Nicholson for a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.