Professor looks to make a difference

Colleen Hayward's whole life has been about education.

"That really is the foundation for us all," the head of ECU's Kurongkurl Katitjin Centre for Indigenous Education and Research and pro-vice-chancellor Equity and Indigenous said.

"The more we can learn about each other in respectful ways, the happier, healthier and safer communities we build," she said.

For more than three decades, Professor Hayward, a senior Noongar woman and daughter of WA's first Aboriginal teacher and school principal Len Hayward, has been an inspiration not just to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders but also to all Australians through her work across a range of fields such as education, human rights and children's health.

Her numerous awards and other forms of recognition include the WA Premier's Multicultural Ambassador's Award (2006), the National NAIDOC Aboriginal Person of the Year Award (2008) and the Order of Australia (2012).

She is an inductee into the WA Department of Education's Hall of Fame for achievement in Aboriginal education and the WA Women's Hall of Fame.

But it all comes back to education.

"All I ever really wanted to do was be a teacher," Professor Hayward said. "Mum and Dad were both teachers and that's how we ended up in Kalgoorlie - in those days you still had to do country service to get your permanency."

The second of six children attended Brentwood Primary School, Applecross Senior High School and Mt Lawley teachers' college before teaching in primary schools for the next 11 years.

"I loved it," she said. "In primary teaching, you get to have a class of kids for a whole year. Over the course of that time you see their development, not only academically but as people."

Despite her love for her chosen profession, Professor Hayward's journey was to take a different direction when, at the age of just 30, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that left her unable to teach or have children of her own.

"It was a very close call," she said. "It made me reflect that if I had survived, it must have been for a reason. I like the adage of 'doing what you love and loving what you do', because life is quite literally too short to do something less than that.

"That's why I really want to do things that are important."

One of those ways to make a difference is to be a role model for Aboriginal students.

"For me, it is about how you live your life," she said.

"We have nearly 300 Aboriginal students at ECU this year. It's the highest number we've had for a while.

"And because I hold a senior position within the university, I hope that every one of those 300 students looks at me and says, 'I can do that'. Not just in education, but in business, in government or in another enterprise.

"Sometimes I just think we underestimate the inspiration we can be for others."