Professor Gary Foley

Campaigner and advocate for indigenous Australian rights, actor, write and academic
BA (Hons) 2002, PhD 2013

Professor Mark Considine, Dean, Faculty of Arts with Professor Gary Foley, recipient of the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award
Professor Mark Considine, Dean, Faculty of Arts with Professor Gary Foley, recipient of the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Professor Gary Foley was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to Aboriginal Australian advocacy, welfare and rights.  Gary was a co-founder of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972, played a pivotal role in organising protests against the Springbok tour in 1971, and was involved in the formation of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern and the Aboriginal Medical Service in Melbourne and Sydney.  He co-wrote and appeared in the first Aboriginal stage production in 1972, Basically Black, helped to establish the National Black Theatre, and he has starred in films such as Backroads and Dogs in Space, as well as being the first director of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.  Gary organised protests to highlight Indigenous issues at the Brisbane Commonwealth Games and, during the Bicentenary, was a consultant to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.  He also campaigned successfully against the closure of Northland Secondary College in 1993. From 2001- 2005 Gary was the Senior Curator for South Eastern Australia at Museum Victoria.

Gary was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for this PhD thesis at The University of Melbourne on the development of the Black Power movement within the Aboriginal community, and is the author of a forthcoming book on this topic .  He has also been published in numerous journals including Griffith Law Review and the Australian Journal of Human Rights. Gary is now Professor at the Moondani Balluk Indigenous Academic Unit at Victoria University.

The Faculty of Arts is proud to acknowledge Gary’s dedication and contribution to academic writing and research, to advocacy and activism, to film and acting, and particularly to Aboriginal health, welfare and rights. Gary has made an extraordinary mark on the history not only of this campus and its students, but also on a world in which the role of activism and advocacy remains critical.

I got thrown out of school when I was 15 years old on the North coast of New South Wales by a racist headmaster who dismissed me with these words; “We don’t want your kind here”. Those words demolished my self-esteem, my self-confidence for 30 years. I came to the University almost at the age of 50, so it’s a little bit of a concern to get a Lifetime Achievement Award at this age because sort of implies that I’m getting towards the end of my life. I think there’s a few bites left in this old dog yet, mate! I want to pay particular tribute to Professor Nikos Papastergiadis, who was my PhD supervisor…he played a key role in helping me discipline my mind and achieve the award I received for my PhD.  I also want to pay particular tribute to Dr. Tony Birch, who was the first Aboriginal historian to graduate from this University … he was a role-model and a mentor for me. One other person that I’d like to pay tribute to is Dr. Steven Welch, who was really one of the truly inspirational historians I studied under at this University. It was a fantastic experience…’