Woman Henderson-Yates, Professor Lyn

Academic and Indigenous Educator

Written by Elaine Rabbitt, Independent Scholar

Aboriginal leaders, especially Aboriginal women carry a great deal of responsibility in the community and within the family. 'It's a massive load especially if you are working full time and studying', says Professor Lyn Henderson-Yates, the first Aboriginal person to be appointed Deputy Vice Chancellor of an Australian university. She has been recognised as a national leader for her vision of excellence in teaching and research and in valuing community-based Indigenous knowledge. She is renowned for her work in the development of education and cultural immersion programs and her passion to promote reconciliation (http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/regional/kimberley/a/-/news/9829838/awards-a-way-forward/).

An Aboriginal woman from the Shadforth family in Derby, West Kimberley, Lyn does not want to be 'singled out' as a leader. She admits she is not comfortable with accolades of that nature but says she must put her feelings of shyness aside for the greater good, especially if it is going to benefit Aboriginal people. Growing up in Derby as the eldest of eight children, life was not peaceful; rather somewhat 'rough and tumble', Lyn explained. Yet she took on a leadership role at an early age by assisting her mother with her younger brothers and sisters. She has been surrounded by strong women all her life, particularly her Mother, Aunts and cousins.

Lyn describes herself as an observer. She used to listen more than she would speak as she found public speaking challenging. But having worked in Aboriginal Education for 35 years, starting as an Aboriginal teaching assistant and working her way up the ladder, Lyn has taken on the challenge of speaking out. She often told her university students: 'After class today, go outside, take off your shoes, walk on the ground. By walking on the ground you are absorbing over 50,000 years of a rich culture: the songs, the stories, the births and deaths, the laughter and the tears of Aboriginal people are rising up through your feet' (www.carmelites.org.au/doc_download/84-jpic-april-2012‎).

To Lyn, a woman of strong principles, honesty and truth are important values. She believes women still have to work extra hard to get into senior level positions. 'I think it's still a man's world. Most men try to or tend to dominate. They are not conscious of it sometimes. While it is very slowly changing, you still see this imbalance operating. The difference between both genders can be great. I think women tend to listen, make sure others are included and allow people to have a voice. Men want to fill in the spaces and push on, get their point across. Women can be disadvantaged because the styles are different which you can see it operating in politics in Australia' (Interview).

In 2011 when Lyn was awarded the title of Person of the year at the Kullari Region National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Awards, she was described as being a humble, high achiever who hopes her achievements will assist in spreading messages of reconciliation and the potential of other Aboriginal people (http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/regional/kimberley/a/-/news/9829838/awards-a-way-forward/).

In 2013 Lyn is a member of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Notre Dame (UNDA) Australia Broome Campus, Director of the Nulungu Research Institute, and Chair UNDA Indigenous Education Consultative Group. Her commitment is to stay true to her sense of community and where she comes from whilst recognising that she has to perform in a particular way when she is out there in those leadership positions.

Archival Resources

Private Collection

  • Lyn Henderson Yates interviewed by Elaine Rabbitt, Broome, Western Australia, 11 October; Private Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also