Professor Bronwyn Fredericks wears a black graduation cap and red gown with Indigenous colours in front of a UOW media wall. Photo: Andy Zakeli

Honorary Doctorate for strong advocate who wears her heart on her sleeve

Honorary Doctorate for strong advocate who wears her heart on her sleeve

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks on the life-changing impact of education

For more than 30 years, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks has been a fierce and passionate advocate for the health, education, and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is a role that she does not take lightly, and one she shows no sign of relinquishing.  

Today (Wednesday 1 November), Professor Fredericks was recognised for her immense and unwavering contribution to academia, government, and community, and to improving the lives and futures of First Nations peoples, with a Doctors of Letters, honoris causa, from the University of Wollongong (UOW). 

She was “surprised and delighted” by the honour, which recognised the strong relationship she has forged with UOW over the years in teaching, learning, and research.  

As Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Queensland, Professor Fredericks works tirelessly to bring Indigenous perspectives and knowledge into the higher education sector. She understands the immense value of education and said it is the key to unlocking a future for all young people.  

“Learning expands my world and the world of others,” Professor Fredericks said. “There are many ways to understand an issue and see a problem, but the only way you can do that is to learn more, read more, and apply more lenses to an issue.” 

“Education gives young people a choice, its gives young Indigenous people a choice. It enables them to see that there are options out there that they may not have considered before and it improves the outcomes for their lives.” 

Her own educational journey began in the 1980s, with, as she described it, an epiphany of sorts. At the time, Professor Fredericks was working in a fruit shop in Brisbane. It was summer and stiflingly hot in the shop. She realised that the key to escaping a future set in that fruit shop was to gain a formal education.  

“It was hard,” said Professor Fredericks, who studied a Diploma of Secondary Teaching with the aim of becoming a teacher. “There were very few of us at college and university in the 1980s. It changed the trajectory of my life.  

After a few years in the classroom, Professor Fredericks went back to university to take on a Bachelor of Education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT). This was followed, over the next eight years, by a Master of Education Leadership at QUT, a Master of Education Studies at the University of Tasmania, and a PhD in Health Studies at Central Queensland University.  

“I love learning. I love the challenge for myself,” Professor Fredericks said. “We never cease  learning.” 

Throughout this time, Professor Fredericks has built a formidable track record in research and social advocacy, with the health, education, and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and is known for community-based research. Her multidisciplinary research has a strong practice-based commitment to improving life outcomes for Indigenous peoples.  

Professor Eileen McLaughlin, Professor Kathy Clapham, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks and Professor Patricia Davidson in front of a media wall. They all wear graduation gowns and caps. Photo: Andy Zakeli Professor Eileen McLaughlin, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, Professor Kathy Clapham, Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, and Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M Davidson.

Professor Fredericks is a research lead in the health node of the Australian Research Council (ARC)-funded National Indigenous Researchers and Knowledges Network and a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Research Advisory Committee. Her other memberships include Board Member of the Central Queensland Regional Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation and the Beyond Blue National Research Advisory Committee.   

In 2022, she was the recipient of the inaugural National NAIDOC Award in Education, in recognition of her many years of service and hard work in education. Three years earlier, in 2019, she was the Inaugural Awardee of the National Award for Indigenous Health from the Public Health Association of Australia.  

Amongst her many other awards, Professor Fredericks received a dual award with Dr Odette Best of QUT for the 2015 Tertiary (Wholly Australian) Teaching and Learning Resource Award at the Educational Publishing Awards. The book, titled Yatdjuligin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nursing and Midwifery Care, was the first text written by Indigenous midwives, nurses and health professionals, addressing Indigenous health issues, but written for the broader audience of Australian nursing and midwifery students.  

It is in research that Professor Fredericks has forged strong ties with UOW. She has worked extensively with Professor Kathleen Clapham on research and grants, including on the National Indigenous Researchers and Knowledges Network, and with former UOW researcher Dr Marlene Longbottom on projects focused on violence against women.  

Professor Fredericks and Professor Clapham  are currently collaborating on an NSW Health grant, with UOW’s Ngarruwan Ngadju, on research into A Place-Based Pandemic Response to the Strengths and Vulnerabilities of Aboriginal Communities in South-Eastern New South Wales.  

Among her many achievements and accolades – and the list is extensive and impressive – Professor Fredericks is also a member of the Uluru Statement from the Heart Working Group.  

Jaymee Beveridge, Vice President (Indigenous Strategy and Engagement) at UOW, nominated Professor Fredericks for the Honorary Doctorate and paid tribute to her immeasurable contribution to the higher education sector.  

“Bronwyn is a fierce, strategic, and courageously kind presence in higher education. She has shifted the dial and carved out spaces for future Indigenous academics,” Ms Beveridge said.  

“Bronwyn proverbially wears her heart on her sleeve, seizing every opportunity to wear her heart necklace representing both her passion and support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and indeed her own heart, with her extensive work, collaborative approach to research and publications contribution towards a better Australian for everyone.” 

In looking back over her career, Professor Fredericks said she has always been motivated by a desire to create better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to effect change and challenge the status quo. Her strength and her sense of purpose is derived from the inequities facing Indigenous communities and the inspiring people she has met along the way.  

“I’ve been inspired and motivated by the people I’ve met, by the communities I’ve seen, and by the people who have been in my life,” she said. “We talk about how society isn’t right and that there needs to be change, but we all have a role to play in bringing about that change. Every single person has a role to play.” 

“Even those who don’t think they can make a change, who choose to do nothing, they are complicit in maintaining the status quo, as their inaction disadvantages other people. I choose to be someone who is trying to make things better for others, rather than  accept to the status quo.” 

“When you understand that equation, you realise that every single action that we choose, or don’t choose, makes a difference.”