History of the AEC

A Brief History

The AEC has been in existence since 1963. Whilst to some this is may be viewed as a success, to the AEC it represents failure.

In 1963 many concerns were being expressed across the general community about the rights of Australia’s Aboriginal people. For the AEC this was focused on the rights of Aboriginal children to attend their local public school and engage in the full range of services provided. This ground-swell led to the establishment of community-based campaigns such as “these children belong together”, which sought to overturn the regulation which allowed the vote of a majority of non–Indigenous people the right to exclude from any public school an indigenous student who wished to enrol.

Sadly this rule was not deleted from the Teacher’s Handbook until 1972.

Up till this time education of Aboriginal students had occurred mainly in segregated schools attached to Aboriginal reserves, with the expectation was that young Aboriginal people would serve as domestics and farm workers or labourers. The education offered was not empowering and did not offer access to the range of post education pathways enjoyed by non-indigenous students.

In 1963 Alan Duncan, headhunted from the Department of Education, joined the newly formed Department of Adult Education at Sydney University, with a brief to get Aboriginal people involved in adult education. With a long-standing interest in Aboriginal advancement, he had been Teacher-Supervisor at Moonacullah Reserve and Principal at Woodenbong Aboriginal School,  he pulled together a group of like-minded people and formed the Consultative Committee on Aboriginal Education. This became the Aboriginal Education Council.

The AEC always worked with Aboriginal people, looking at ways to overcome the lack of educational opportunities for Aboriginal children and give them the skills to thrive in education and realise their  potential.

The newly formed AEC worked closely with communities to determine needs and devise projects that would be of the most benefit.

It quickly became apparent that social issues such as health, housing and poverty impacted upon the advancement of Aboriginal students. The AEC trialled innovative programs aimed at alleviating these barriers. Programs such as student mentoring, homework centres, breakfast programs, Aboriginal Aides and preschool education centres were some of the early initiatives.

Many of the successful projects and pilot programs initiated or supported by the AEC have become part of mainstream schooling or have been instrumental in the development of government policies.

The AEC also took the role of raising the issues uncovered with various levels of government. And a network of people from across the community worked with education authorities to address these problems and other deficiencies in the education system.

In addition, the AEC worked to raise funds for scholarships and other projects, such as books and resources for Aboriginal students, as well as working towards increasing awareness of Indigenous Australian culture. A number of AEC members have bequeathed all or part of their estates to the AEC, for example Patrick White.

Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir AC, Governor of New South Wales, is Honorary Patron of the Aboriginal Education Council.

When established the AEC did not envisage its work lasting for nearly 50 years. Sadly many young Aboriginal people still start school not understanding the culture of schooling.

Without support, this leads to alienation, loss of motivation and a feeling of failure. Too many feel that formal education has nothing to offer and leave school without the knowledge and skills necessary to take their place in the wider community.

So the AEC is needed as much today as it was back in 1963 when it began. Its aim was then and is now, to make the same opportunities available to all students in the public school system whether that be pre, primary, secondary or tertiary.

For more information about the History if the AEC please download the booklet here