First Aboriginal Rhodes Scholar announced

By AAP with AG Staff 17 December 2010
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An anthropology student from the Adnyamathanha and Barngarla peoples will go to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

THE DAUGHTER OF AN outback stockman from the Flinders Ranges has been named Australia’s first indigenous Rhodes Scholar.  Rebecca Richards, a University of Adelaide anthropology student, was also the first of her family to finish high school. She will continue her studies in indigenous history and culture when she takes up her position at the University of Oxford next year.

The 23-year-old has been awarded an Australia-At-Large Rhodes Scholarship, which will allow her to read for a master’s of philosophy in material anthropology and museum ethnography.

“I am just stunned. This is an amazing honour and I can’t wait to study
in the oldest and most established anthropological museum in the world,”
she said on Thursday.

Native title holders

Rebecca was raised in South Australia’s Riverland and is a member of the Adnyamathanha and Barngarla peoples of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. She grew up on her family’s fruit farm, riding horses and dirt motorbikes and swimming in the Murray.

Her fascination with anthropology began at 14 when she did fieldwork in her native Adnyamathanha lands with her father and Dr Philip Jones, head of anthropology at the South Australian Museum.

Rebecca Richards

Rebecca Richards starts at Oxford in September 2011.

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

“These formative experiences helped me realise that the indigenous
knowledge of the ecology and history of South Australia – and this
continent – is priceless,” she adds. “My fight for its recognition has
fuelled my academic achievements.”

Repatriating Aboriginal objects

Rebecca currently works at National Museum of Australia in Canberra. This year she also took an internship at the US National Museum of Natural History, part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. There she worked to digitise the collections from a major Australian-American scientific expedition to Arnhem Land in 1948.

She hopes that her time at Oxford will also allow her to “digitally repatriate” objects and knowledge from the university’s Pitt Rivers Museum and Bodleian Library to indigenous communities in Australia.

University of Adelaide vice-chancellor James McWha says that Rebecca’s “outstanding result” will hopefully inspire other young indigenous Australians to pursue higher education. She is the university’s 104th Rhodes Scholar.

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