Creating belonging at Mandelbaum House

On 21 March, Dr. Lisa Jackson Pulver unveiled a magnificent Indigenous mural on the roof terrace of Mandelbaum House which was gifted to the college by a family of one of the College’s Aboriginal students. Mandelbaum is home to six Indigenous students, including five who are Gadigal scholarship recipients.

The Indigenous artist Jason ‘Bidjipidji’ Lee painted a bright mural to reflect the energy and personalities of the various residents of Mandelbaum House. The main feature is a dragonfly and as the plaque explains “The Dragonfly was chosen as it symbolises change, transformation, adaptability, and self-realisation which perfectly encapsulates the journey of students as they undertake their academic studies and leads to transformation and empowerment, enabled by the environment of Mandelbaum House and the University of Sydney.”

After the ceremony, Mandelbaum House residents were fortunate to hear a talk by Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Strategy and Services, Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver at the College’s March formal dinner. The theme of the talk can be summarised in one word: “Belonging”.

Jackson Pulver is an epidemiologist and a leading researcher in the field of Aboriginal health. Completing her PhD in Medicine at the University of Sydney, Jackson Pulver has remained a stalwart role model and an icon in Indigenous academia. She was also formerly a President of Newtown Synagogue and is a member of the Great Synagogue.

After holding positions at UNSW and Western Sydney University, Professor Jackson Pulver was in 2018 appointed her current role by then-Vice Chancellor Michael Spence. She has responsibility with others for Indigenous student recruitment – through entry schemes like the Gadigal program – and Indigenous student retention – through the provision the ITAS tutoring program and the MOBS mentoring program.

In her talk, Jackson Pulver outlined Australia’s sore history of Indigenous affairs. First Nations people were not counted for inclusion in the reports for the national census until after the historic 1967 referendum. Today, they do not have the constitutional right to a voice in parliament and indigenous Australians face vast inequalities.

The Uluru Statement of the Heart aims to change this fact.

And so do the Indigenous youth who gathered to create The Imagination Declaration:

“In 2017, we asked for a voice & treaty.

Today, we ask you to imagine what’s possible.

“We are not the problem, we are the solution.…Don’t define us through the lens of disadvantage or label us as limited…. let us spread our wings and soar higher than ever before.

“We call on you and the Education Ministers across the nation to establish an imagination agenda for our Indigenous kids and, in fact, for all Australian children.

“We want to show Australia Aboriginal leadership and imagination for the whole nation.

These statements, The Uluru Statement of the Heart, and The Imagination Declaration are relevant everywhere in this country. We can start building the ‘imagination nation’ right here in Sydney.

This is Dr. Jackson Pulver’s goal for the university, to create an environment where First Nation’s people belong, “The youth have spoken, they lay down the challenge… We have imagination. We belong. We can act.”

“Those at Mandelbaum House also have imagination. We belong and we can act. The Mandelbaum spirit is one of inclusion and harmony. This is a gift that we can bring out into the University, and into our futures, wherever we may go. We can create belonging for all.”

Mandelbaum House is the Jewish residential college located on the campus of the University of Sydney. It is a “home away from home” for 39 Australian and international student residents.

Written by: Annika Oakley, Mandelbaum resident

Photographer: Giselle Haber