The University of Sydney has awarded an honorary doctorate to Shellie Morris in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to music performance and education, in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their culture and language.
“As one of Australia’s finest Indigenous singer-songwriters, Shellie Morris has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians and youth, by helping them to capture their stories and experiences,” said University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Stephen Garton.
Raised in Sydney by her adopted non-Indigenous family Ms Morris began singing at an early age performing in church choirs. In the 1990s, she moved to Darwin to find her Indigenous Yanyuwa, Gudanji, Marra and Garrwa families and Elders.
It was here that she recorded a collaborative album with her elders, the Borroloola Songwomen. This resulted in two CDs that combined traditional and contemporary Indigenous music for which Ms Morris had to learn the Yanyuwa language.
Since discovering her Wardaman and Yanyuwa roots over 20 years ago, Ms Morris has created music and sings in around 17 Aboriginal languages, many of which have been considered “sleeping” or close to extinction.
Ms Morris has written thousands of songs during her career in conjunction and collaboration with communities around Australia. She has an unshakable passion for working in communities and has an excellent reputation across the nation as a facilitator and friend to many communities. Armed with personal experience of connection and disconnection, Ms Morris imparts the importance of having a voice, listening to one another and that every individual is important.
Ms Morris has performed with many internationally renowned artists including Yothu Yindi, Sinéad O’Connor, John Cale, Meshell Ndegeocello, Rickie Lee Jones and Dr. G. Yunupingu.
She also featured in the Australian documentary Murundak – Songs of Freedom, about Aboriginal protest music following The Black Arm Band.
First nominated for a Deadly Award in 2002, Ms Morris has since won multiple awards including: the NT Australian of the Year (2014); NAIDOC artist of the year (2014); Female Musician of the Year at the NT Music Awards (2004 and 2005); Deadly Award for Cultural Advancement (2013); ARIA for Ngambala Wiji li-Wunungu (Together We Are Strong), the first album by an Indigenous contemporary female singer/songwriter sung entirely in Indigenous languages of the Gulf Country(2013); and a Walkley Documentary Award.
Ms Morris is an ambassador for the Fred Hollows Foundation and travels the country creating songs with young people in an effort to reduce the incidence of trachoma in Indigenous communities. She has also worked with the Jimmy Little Foundation which aims to help Australian First Nations people to live longer, healthier lives. As a continued supporter of the Foundation, she has worked with many young people to create songs in language.
Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the wider community or who have achieved exceptional academic or creative excellence. Shellie Morris has been admitted to the degree of Doctor of Music (honoris causa).