Dr Brooke Kennedy, a Glen Innes local, comes from a long line of fighters.
From her grandad who selflessly gave his life representing Australia in the Vietnam War, to her beloved nan, Rosemary, who was fighting a war of her own while living on the banks of the Mungindi River in a time where Aboriginal people were stripped of their land and identities. Despite this, Rosemary spent her life bettering her community and raising up those around her.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Brooke is following in her footsteps.
"Obviously, I can't change everything, but if I can change something for just one person, then I've made some kind of difference," Dr Kennedy said.
The first in her family to go to university, she officially became 'Dr Kennedy' at UNE's recent 2023 autumn graduation, Brooke's goal is to give Indigenous people a voice in academia.
"My nan spent her life and career helping others and improving her community, despite being in an area where Indigenous people were looked at differently and stereotypically," she says.
"I guess that's what I'm trying to do through my studies and work at UNE. Obviously, I can't change everything, but if I can change something for just one person, then I've made some kind of difference."
A self-proclaimed 'nerd' and a lifelong advocate for animals, going to university was an obvious choice for Brooke. A year after finishing high school in Tamworth, she was accepted into UNE through the Oorala Aboriginal Centre's Internal Selection Program and decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Zoology with Honours.
On completion, she was awarded the prestigious Vice Chancellor's Indigenous Fellowship in 2017, which allowed her to undertake a PhD into the management of free-roaming dogs and cats in Aboriginal communities, and saw her travel the globe to attend conferences with some of the best and brightest in the Zoology field.
"I've been to quite a few places from around the world, which I wouldn't have done without UNE," she says.
"Some of the standout opportunities were presenting at the Asia for Animals Conference in Nepal, and going to the World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education in Toronto, Canada. That was important to me because it was about Indigenous peoples' experiences from all over the world, and I learnt a lot about the fact that even though we live worlds apart, our everyday barriers and stereotypes are very similar."
Through her current role as a lecturer and researcher in the School of Environmental and Rural Science at UNE, she hopes to improve Indigenous representation in academia and break down some of those universal barriers.
"I think having role models definitely helps, and it would be awesome to have more, but to get those numbers we need to have more undergraduate students to start with," she said.
"I try my best to get involved in things like STEM days, and during my PhD I mentored some TRACKS students through the Oorala Aboriginal Centre.
"This was really important because it was a lot easier for them to talk to an Aboriginal student who was still going through the same things that they were going through. I think having role models definitely helps, and it would be awesome to have more, but to get those numbers we need to have more undergraduate students to start with."
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Now she has turned the tassel on her graduation trencher, Brooke hopes to carry on being an ambassador for Indigenous students at UNE, with plans to continue her current teaching and research role.
"Hopefully I keep doing what I'm doing, inspiring more people and help to mold them into awesome researchers, and animal advocates," she said. "If I could help some Indigenous people on the way, that would be great too.
"I've got students of my own now which is surreal, and I'll be teaching a couple of undergraduate units this year," she says.
"Hopefully I keep doing what I'm doing, inspiring more people and help to mold them into awesome researchers, and animal advocates. If I could help some Indigenous people on the way, that would be great too.
"I've also just been contracted by the NSW RSPCA to monitor cat roaming behaviours before and after the implementation of its Keeping Cats Safe at Home Program to hopefully encourage people to keep their cats inside, which is exciting."
As for those on a similar journey to Brooke, her advice is to "just do it."
"It's going to be hard, and there will be difficult bits like everything in life, but it's worth it in the end, particularly if you're doing something that you're passionate about," Dr Kennedy said.
"If you look around there is a lot of support; sometimes you might feel like you're alone, but you're not."
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