Three First Nations researchers have received grants from the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in the inaugural round of its Wilhelm, Martha, and Otto Rechnitz Memorial Fund.

This Fund was established in 2022 to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers in the social sciences. Grants of up to $20,000 enable innovative and meaningful research projects and help to establish the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in the research disciplines.

‘The Academy champions a diverse and inclusive academic landscape, and the Rechnitz Fund grants are an important way to foster this,’ said Academy President Professor Richard Holden.

‘Through these grants, we aim to support the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers; providing them with the necessary support to continue their vital work and make significant contributions to the social science disciplines.’

This year’s recipients are Torres Strait Islander woman Dr Josephine Bourne from the University of Queensland, Gomeroi woman Dr Olivia Evans from the Australian National University, and Worimi man Dr Jacob Prehn from the University of Tasmania.

They are undertaking research in the areas of First Nations leadership and governance practices, youth and cultural identity and online racism. They will receive financial support and resources from the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia to facilitate their ongoing research projects and contribute to building a stronger foundation for their future careers.

‘We were delighted to see a strong field of applicants for these research awards, and we firmly believe that the successful recipients will go on to have a significant impact in their field and for all Australians,’ said Professor Holden. ‘In particular, we are delighted to be able to support contemporary and highly relevant work by outstanding researchers, and we’re grateful to the Estate of Dr Wilhelm Rechnitz for enabling the Academy to do so.’


The recipients were formally announced at the launch of Social Sciences Week 2023 (4-10 September) at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 4 September with Minister Anne Aly and the re-established Parliamentary Friends of Social Sciences co-convenors Dr Carina Garland MP, Mr Julian Leeser MP and Senator Barbara Pocock. 

Grant recipient quotes:

Dr Josephine Bourne: ‘This grant will support me to build on my relationships in the Torres Strait and work with community co-researchers Marie Ahwang and Solanima Mareko to amplify the voice of women on Badu Island (Badu Ipi-Kazil). The research project will enable me and community researchers to record the stories of women’s experiences in governance and leadership, in the cultural context as well as capture their knowledge on how they navigate governance requirements between two worlds. The community will benefit by creating a record and analysis of stories for inter-generational knowledge transfer and the maintenance of Badu’s nationhood.’  

Dr Olivia Evans: ‘The grant from the Academy’s Rechnitz Fund empowers me as an Aboriginal early career researcher to expand my research base by leading a project into online racism against Indigenous Australians during the leadup to the Voice to Parliament referendum. The support this fund provides will enable me to develop new research skills and uncover nuanced insights into the prevailing attitudes and narratives at this critical juncture in Australia’s history.

Dr Jacob Prehn: ‘I am honoured to receive this grant from The Wilhelm, Martha, and Otto Rechnitz Memorial Fund from the Academy of Social Sciences Australia. As an early-career researcher, this grant will enable myself and my colleague to investigate further how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths can be supported in their cultural identity at school, but also further understand how confidence in one’s Indigeneity can contribute to favourable personal and academic results. We hope that our work from this grant will contribute to practical change in schools around Australia on cultural support for, and service provision to, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in this area; something I, as a proud Worimi man, am passionate about.’

Grant recipient information:

Dr Josephine Bourne from the University of Queensland’s School of Political Science and International Studies was successful in achieving a grant to fund her research into leadership and governance practices among Western Torres Strait Islander women of Badu Island, in the Maluligal Nation. The project aims to capture women’s lived experiences of leadership and governance practices in relation to family and community life, and increase understandings of the complicated nature of socio-political factors women face while living on their ancestral lands and waters and managing the demands from the dominant culture and policies imposed by the State.

Post-doctoral research fellow Dr Olivia Evans (Gomeroi), from ANU’s School of Medicine and Psychology, has been awarded funds to continue her research into inequality and the social determinants of health, with a large-scale investigation into online racism and harassment toward First Nations Australians, using the lead-up to the Voice Referendum for context. The project aims to recommend strategies to prevent and reduce racism towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people online. Dr Evans will be joined in the project by Director of the Melbourne Centre for Behaviour Change, Professor Iain Walker, and Associate Professor of Clinical and Health Psychology, Tegan Cruwys from ANU.

Dr Jacob Prehn (Worimi), Associate Dean Indigenous and senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Tasmania was also successful in achieving a grant to begin research into the levels of support experienced by First Nations youths for their cultural identity. Dr Prehn’s data-informed research into how schools are actively supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in fostering cultural identity—and where schools could improve—aims to contribute to better understandings of how to achieve the socioeconomic outcomes and targets of the Closing the Gap Strategy. Joining Dr Prehn on this project will be University of Tasmania Indigenous Fellow Academic Development, Dr Michael Guerzoni (Palawa).

Read more about the fund on the Academy website.