The Narrm Oration, delivered annually since 2009, is the University’s key address that profiles leading Indigenous peoples from across the world in order to enrich our ideas about possible futures for Indigenous Australia.
‘Narrm’ refers to the country of the Melbourne region. The 2016 Narrm Oration ‘Between the Dreaming and the Market: Indigenous economic migrants and the world they made’, was delivered by renowned journalist and author Stan Grant.
Grant, a man of Wiradjuri and Kamiloroi heritage who spent his early years on the road in the backblocks of New South Wales with his itinerant family has become a journalist of international renown. The winner of some of journalism’s most prestigious awards, he was recently appointed as the first Indigenous anchor of a prime-time current affairs program on the ABC. Grant has also published two critically acclaimed and best-selling books, 'The Tears of Strangers' and 'Talking to my Country', and has authored a recently published Quarterly Essay examining Indigenous futures.
Introduced by the University’s 2015 Narrm orator and early mentor, Professor Marcia Langton, Grant delivered a powerful oration to a theatre of more than 350 people. Those present included Indigenous Traditional Owners and Elders, members of the University’s Senior Executive, Indigenous students and staff, and members of the wider University community and general public.
Grant’s oration was delivered in the context of what has been described as an 'annus horribilus' for Indigenous people. Indigenous youth suicide, domestic violence and incarceration rates, together with what is often seen as “a crisis in Indigenous policy” reflect a depressing reality. Grant, however, in opening and closing his oration with Australian author Eleanor Dark’s fictional imaginings of Bennelong of a world beyond one’s own, identified ‘a spark of hope’.
Grant noted that increasing numbers of Indigenous people are finishing school and completing university courses, are achieving acclaim in the arts and sports and “the Indigenous middle class is growing faster than any other sector of the population”. He suggested that these people are the descendants of those involved in the great Indigenous economic migration of the 20th century and traces this transformation in a powerful and moving way through the journey of his own family. “Pioneers who caught the tailwinds of economic boom and social change, they transformed their lives and altered forever our country.” In arguing that culture and identity are fluid and that those who are able to control their own lives, empowered by the achievements of their forebears, can stand in both the Dreaming and the market, Grant suggested a way forward.
As noted by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Glyn Davis, in thanking Grant, the story of his family and of the many Indigenous people who have moved forward and created their own history rather than being defined by the history they have inherited, is inspirational and provides a lesson to us all. The enthusiastic response of the audience to Grant’s oration would suggest that this sentiment was widely held.