Indigenous student makes history at Oxford

Rebecca Richards

Rebecca Richards
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Thursday, 16 December 2010

A 23-year-old University of Adelaide anthropology student has made history by becoming Australia's first Indigenous Rhodes Scholar in 108 years.

Rebecca Richards, the daughter of a Leigh Creek stockman and a primary school teacher, will further her passion for Indigenous history and culture when she enrols at Oxford University in September 2011.

Rebecca has been awarded an Australia-At-Large Rhodes Scholarship, which will enable her to study for a Masters of Philosophy in Material Anthropology and Museum Ethnography.

"I am just stunned," Rebecca said after receiving the award. "This is an amazing honour and I can't wait to study in the oldest and most established anthropological museum in the world."

The University of Adelaide Bachelor of Arts (Honours) student was raised in South Australia's Riverland and is a member of the Adnyamathanha and Barngarla peoples of the Flinders Ranges. She grew up on her family's fruit block, riding horses and dirt motorbikes, and swimming in the Murray River.

Her interest in anthropology was sparked at age 14 when she did some fieldwork in her native Adnyamathanha lands in the Flinders Ranges with her father and the Head of Anthropology at the South Australian Museum, Dr Philip Jones.

"The information gained on this fieldwork was later used in the determination of native title of those lands," Rebecca said. "I am also passionate about the repatriation of Indigenous objects, languages and associated knowledge to Indigenous communities."

Rebecca has custodial responsibilities for her family site, Pukatu, and for women's sites in the Flinders Ranges.

"These formative experiences helped me realise that the Indigenous knowledge of the ecology and history of South Australia and this continent is priceless. My fight for its recognition has fuelled my academic achievements."

Rebecca is currently employed as an Indigenous Cadet Project Officer with the National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This year she also undertook an internship at the prestigious Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, working in its National Museum of Natural History to help digitise the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition.

After completing her postgraduate studies, Rebecca hopes to help digitally repatriate objects and knowledge from the Pitt Rivers Museum and Bodleian Library at Oxford to the relevant Indigenous communities in Australia.

University of Adelaide Vice-Chancellor and President Professor James McWha, said Rebecca's Rhodes Scholarship was "an outstanding result" and would hopefully inspire many young Indigenous people to pursue higher education.

"The University currently has nearly 200 Indigenous students, which is a 60% increase over the past five years. This demonstrates our commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who I believe should not only have access to high quality education but be actively encouraged to undertake university studies," Professor McWha said.

Rebecca is the 104th Rhodes Scholar from the University of Adelaide and the 37th from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

SA Young Achiever of the Year for 2011

On Saturday 26 March 2011, Rebecca was also named the Channel 9 Young Achiever of the Year for South Australia at an awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel.

She was presented with her award by SA Premier Mike Rann.

Rebecca is a member of the Minister's Youth Council, Young Indigenous Professionals Group and the Indigenous Youth Mobility Program. She is an advocate for Indigenous health and attended the United Nations forum on Indigenous issues in New York.


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