Woman Weir, Margaret Williams

Educator, Naval officer and Teacher

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Margaret Williams Weir's people are the Malera Bandjalang whose land is around Grafton in northern New South Wales. The youngest child in a large family, she made the most of her limited opportunities by doing well at school. She matriculated from Casino High School when she was seventeen years old and in so doing, shared honours in 1956 with a Western Australian man, Geoffrey Penny, by becoming the first aboriginal person to matriculate to an Australian University. In January 1957 the University of Queensland offered her a scholarship and she commenced an arts degree. 'There was a great amount of publicity,' she says. 'I was the first Aboriginal person to go to university in Australia' (Weir).

After a semester, she transferred to the University of Melbourne where she enrolled in a Diploma of Physical Education. Much happier with this course of study, she thrived in Melbourne, where she could 'feel the energy and the wisdom' (Weir). Her tuition scholarship was transferable and she was also offered a scholarship to stay at University Women's College, where she 'learned how the other half lived and how power operates.' She completed her diploma in 1959, thus becoming the first Aboriginal person to graduate from an Australian university.

From the moment she enrolled at university, Weir knew that she was trailblazing and that her leadership was of enormous symbolic importance beyond her own development. 'I knew I was opening a door for others and had to finish because,' she says, 'if I failed white people would say they gave a black person an opportunity but what's the point?' (Weir). Not only did she succeed, she made the most of the opportunity she was given. She has travelled the world, taught in schools locally and abroad, contributed to government policy on indigenous education initiatives, completed her PhD and even served in the Canadian Navy. Says Weir, about her time at university, 'I've never looked back' (Weir).

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