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Curtin awards Honorary Doctorate to respected Aboriginal elder

Media release

Curtin University has honoured a man who has worked to promote and protect human rights, increase Indigenous participation in higher education and close the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy gap.

Tom Calma, a high-profile Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science at Curtin’s graduation ceremony on Tuesday 15 February.

Mr Calma, who is also a member of the Iwaidja tribal group whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in the Northern Territory, is co-Chair of the Close the Gap Committee and was formerly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner.

Image of Tom Calma, Curtin University Honorary Doctarate

Tom Calma, Curtin University Honorary Doctorate

He was also chosen by representatives of the Stolen Generation to deliver the formal response to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s National Apology in the Great Hall of the Parliament on 13 February 2008.

Mr Calma was responsible for overseeing community development, employment and education programs at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services (ATSIS) and Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) where he worked with remote Indigenous communities to implement community-based participation and empowerment programs.  His public sector career spans more than 38 years as an academic, public servant, political adviser, diplomat and human rights defender.

The Federal Government appointed Mr Calma as the inaugural National Coordinator for Tackling Indigenous Smoking in 2010.

As part of his role, he will lead and mentor the Federal Government’s $100 million Council of Australian Government Tackling Indigenous Smoking initiative to reduce smoking in Indigenous communities.

Mr Calma has been a longstanding advocate for integrating Indigenous culture and knowledge in higher education, and has encouraged universities to reflect, value and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into their curricula and teaching methodologies.

A key focus of his activities is on closing the life expectancy gap for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

He has also worked as a senior Australian diplomat in India and Vietnam, representing Australia’s interests in education and training.

Curtin Vice-Chancellor Professor Jeanette Hacket said the Honorary Doctorate recognised Mr Calma’s knowledge and leadership in Indigenous affairs, and his commitment to closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

“Mr Calma has been actively involved in promoting the interests and concerns of Indigenous people at all levels, and has been a consistent and forceful advocate for their wellbeing,” Professor Hacket said.

Mr Calma said he was honoured to receive the Honorary Doctorate.

“I have worked hard throughout my life to encourage universities to integrate Indigenous culture and knowledge into its teaching methods,” Mr Calma said.

“To be recognised by an institution such as Curtin University, which is committed to Indigenous education and knowledge through its Centre for Aboriginal Studies is very humbling.”


Denise Cahill, Public Relations, Curtin University
Tel: 08 9266 1931, Mobile: 0401 103 683, Email: