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Aboriginal studies director reveals his plan

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WA’s longest-serving Aboriginal academic has revealed his top three priorities now he is directing Curtin’s Centre for Aboriginal Studies.

Simon Forrest is a Nyungar Yamaji man – with familial links to the Wongi people – who hit the ground running when he started as CAS Director on September 13.

“People are still introducing me as the ‘new’ director, probably now we can drop the ‘new’ bit,” Associate Professor Forrest said.

He follows in the footsteps of his uncle, Victor Forrest, who was part of the team that established CAS in 1983.

“The Centre has always been a good quality place for teaching and is well known in the Nyungar and wider Aboriginal community,” Associate Professor Forrest said.

“My intention over the next three to five years is to reinforce that the Aboriginal cultural imperative is what drives this place.

“If we don’t do that well, we’re doing our community a disservice.”

Associate Professor Forrest said his first priority would be to manage the “overwhelming” demand from groups both inside and outside the University that wanted to collaborate with CAS.

“There seems to be a lot more outside organisations wanting to have partnerships with the centre,” he said.

“Since 1996, the first reconciliation day and week, there has been significant focus on partnerships in various areas between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal worlds.

“There are numerous individuals and organisations I have met since starting at Curtin who are interested in developing or continuing relationships with CAS and working with those people and staff within CAS on how we can contribute in a meaningful way to other parts of the University and to outside organisations.”

Associate Professor Forrest said collaboration with the Aboriginal units of other Perth-based universities would be a strong part of that.

He holds a Bachelor and a Master of Education, and as WA’s longest-serving Aboriginal academic says a second priority for CAS must be to restore its research capability.

“This place did have a research centre that ceased operations in 2005/2006 and we are working in a strategic way with a view to re-establishing a research centre and a research practice and ethos,” he said.

“The first part of that strategy is to develop a research plan that will include strategies such as increasing postgraduate activities and building relationships with organisations such as Pindi Pindi – The National Research Centre for Aboriginal Children, Families and Community.”

A third, but by no means lesser, priority will be to cast a fresh eye over the administration of CAS to promote teamwork.

“My philosophy of team is more like a cricket team where – unlike Davis Cup where the captain is on the sideline, or football where the coach calls the shots from the gransstand – the captain who has most of the power is on the field,” Associate Professor Forrest said.

“Importantly, a cricket captain is a person with their own set of skills and they have to mould the team to achieve what they want to achieve to win the game.

“The most important thing is the leader is part of the team and is actively involved in doing whatever they do.”

In this vein, the former primary school teacher who has taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level since 1983 says he’ll be putting his hand up to teach one of the Centre’s units next year.

Curtin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, Robyn Quin, said CAS would benefit from Associate Professor Forrest’s expertise in Aboriginal education, history, politics and culture.

“Simon is a great asset for CAS and we look forward to having him at the Centre and welcoming him to the Curtin community,” Professor Quin said.

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