History of Wollotuka
The Awabakal word "Wollotuka" means "eating and meeting place".
Wollotuka began as an Indigenous Australian students support program in 1983 on what was then the campus of Newcastle College of Advanced Education (NCAE) and survived through the repositioning of NCAE as the Hunter Institute of Higher Education and it's subsequent amalgamation with Newcastle University. With amalgamation, The Wollotuka Centre was structured into the Deputy Vice Chancellor's area of responsibility.
By the beginning of the 1990's Wollotuka had expanded it's operations beyond student support and had commenced the design and delivery of courses aimed at enhancing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and equity at Newcastle University. The first course to be offered was the Aboriginal Bridging Program. This program ceased to be offered after 1997 due to a decrease in enrolments. It has since been replaced by the Yapug Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Enabling Program.
Parallel to Wollotuka's development was that of the Indigenous Australian Medical Students Program which commenced at Newcastle University in 1985 and had produced its first graduates by 1990.
Wollotuka's role continued to grow and by the late 1990's Wollotuka had positioned itself as the main provider of Aboriginal Studies courses to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study in courses other than Medicine. This included a mandatory Aboriginal Education unit for all teacher education students within the Graduate Diploma of Education, a first for any institution in NSW.
Since 1992 Wollotuka was involved in the development and teaching of the Diploma in Aboriginal Studies course which in 1999 was developed into a Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies degree. Wollotuka now also offers a major in Aboriginal Studies in the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Science degree. As well as the teaching and curriculum development roles that Wollotuka undertook there was an ongoing support service offered to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students studying at Newcastle University. In 1993 the University adopted the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Special Entry Policy which addressed selection procedures for entry of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to the University.
Wollotuka's expanded role created greater demand for student and staff accommodation and the purpose build centre, which had controversial beginnings in that it was built from 1988 Bi-Centenary Funds, went through structural changes that saw the acquisition of office space at the cost of the loss of student facilities space.
In late 1996 Wollotuka was successful in obtaining Commonwealth funds to establish an Indigenous Australian Higher Education Research Centre, which was subsequently named Umulliko and commenced its operations in 1997 while physically located on another part of the campus.
An external review of the university's Aboriginal Education and Research Training programs was conducted in 1999 and amongst its recommendations was that the operations of Wollotuka and Umulliko should be merged. It was believed that this could best be achieved by having the programs physically located next to each other. This further reinforced the longstanding Indigenous viewpoint that Wollotuka had outgrown available accommodation space. It also fitted in with the university's foreshadowed plan to provide more appropriate accommodation for the programs.
In 2001 the University underwent a major restructure and resultantly the University began to move towards forming a School of Aboriginal Studies with the newly formed Faculty of Education and Arts and committed funds to provide a free standing building to meet the accommodation needs of the School.
The building, which is called Birabahn in honour of both the Eagle-hawk totem of the Awabakal and the Awabakal scholar by the same name, saw students and staff take up residence in April 2002. The official opening occurred in late October 2002 along with an Indigenous Australian Cultural Festival that enabled a widespread celebration of this important milestone in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander education.
An outstanding feature of the building is the surrounding native plant landscaped gardens and ponds which were constructed by CDEP workers engaged through Yarnteen Aboriginal Corporation.
Late in 2002 an official merger took place with Gibalee, the Indigenous Education Centre on the Ourimbah Campus becoming part of Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies.
During this period Indigenous academic activity at Newcastle University continued to increase through the collaborate efforts of Indigenous Student Support, Wollotuka's academic area, Umulliko, Yapug and the Discipline of Aboriginal Health. Wollotuka now having the capacity to offer all levels of programs, on the three major campuses of the university, from access through undergraduate degrees to postgraduate doctoral programs. Currently the courses on offer range from a Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies and postgraduate research masters as well as doctoral degrees. To further complement this suite of courses Wollotuka developed an honors course, a coursework masters in Aboriginal Studies and an International focused Masters degree program.
The University undertook a change management process in 2005 which then resulted in Indigenous Support separating from Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies and reporting directly to the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic). With Indigenous Collaboration now being a strategic priority within the University, over the next few years this separation was seen to be disempowering for Indigenous Education and in late 2008 discussions between Indigenous staff of both the Support Unit and School and senior management of the University saw yet again another change whereby a new Indigenous Unit was formed which would sit under the Academic Division and report via three co-Directors to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Global Relations). This unit saw the merger of the School, Support Unit, Indigenous Employment and Indigenous Health to form The Wollotuka Institute in early 2009.
The Wollotuka Institute now operates out of the three main campuses at Callaghan, Ourimbah and Port Macquarie.