Alumni News

Highly regarded champion for human rights

Dr Jill McRae

Bachelor of Distance Education (1988)
CEO, International Campaign for Humanitarian Relief of Syria Inc
Dr Jill McRae

Dr Jill McRae is a passionate advocate of civil and political rights. As the CEO of International Campaign for Humanitarian Relief of Syria Inc (ICHRS), she is currently working to help Syrians, especially women, children and the elderly living in refugee camps.

A dedicated and highly regarded champion for human rights, Dr McRae is appropriately suited to her current position having achieved an esteemed peace making career. Dr McRae has written extensively on international and regional peace initiatives, notably on Bougainville, West Papua, Ireland, the former Yugoslavia, and the Middle East. She is also a frequent guest lecturer, international consultant and conference delegate, mediator, scholar and esteemed poet.

Since 2014 Dr McRae has been dedicating her time and effort to the people affected by the Syrian conflict.

“In February 2014 the Syria Peace Talks failed in Geneva. At that point I got in touch with Hadi Bourghiba, an Imam from Auburn in Sydney and a friend of long-standing (he is also the unofficial head of the Libyan community in Australia). Together we set up Saving Syria! The International Campaign for the Humanitarian Relief of Syria,” says Dr McRae.

“Every week I compose and send out the Syria Newsbeat; this week will be the 119th. It is well-received, in particular because coverage of the conflict in the Australian media is less than satisfactory.”

One of ICHRS’ immediate priorities is to raise funding to establish a radio station in Jordon that is exclusively for the use of Syrians and dedicated to improving and facilitating communication amongst these groups.

“We want to establish a radio station in Jordan. The radio station means we can dedicate ourselves to helping the Syrians stay in touch with each other; that is their priority. Once established the station will be run by Syrian refugees, and will be for Syrian refugees, who are in camps and towns throughout the region.”

In addition to aiding the Middle East crisis, Dr McRae has travelled all over the world and worked on undoubtedly crucial projects, including the Australian federal policy change to destroy landmines. However, it is her ventures with native linguistic policy that resonates with her the most.

“All over the Pacific small island states respective education ministries were jettisoning the native languages as soon as children were at school (during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s). They treated these unique languages as though they were unnecessary, and an impediment to acquiring ‘good’ English, the international language of renown.

“Linguistically that behaviour is suicide, as anyone with any knowledge of how we acquire language will tell you. I was influential in changing the policy in any number of Pacific Island countries, including the production of attractive books for younger kids in the languages of the region. Ironically my doctoral studies ended up in the area of meta-linguistics.”

Dr Jill McRae at Graduation ceremony

Dr McRae’s Harvard work in Native American metalinguistics and narratives has received international recognition.

“In Maine I discovered a collection of Native American stories that North American scholars had overlooked. It is a study (the thesis, that is) that has made its way from library to library across the campuses of US, I am relieved to report (if not a little surprised).”

Growing up in rural New South Wales, Dr McRae did not envisage completing 13 university degrees – including at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government, Harvard – and a substantial record in the field of international development and peace making.

“I’m a Narrabri kinda gal, who grew up in the fifties and sixties,” says Dr McRae

“Nobody gave me any attention or encouragement until I got to Armidale Teachers College, at the age of 17. When I was at the ATC, Dylan Thomas changed my life. I heard Under Milk Wood, the play for voices that is arguably his best-known work and darn near cried with astonishment. I wrote this poem about him, and it won the college prize for poetry. Gave me a bit of confidence, see, to keep on with the poetry thing.

“It’s what landed me in Seamus Heaney’s course at Harvard - it was a course for poets, not about poetry.”

Seamus Heaney announced he would make his selection of students based on the poems they wrote and poked under his door.

“When Seamus put up the list, mine was the very last name. Seamus gave only two of us an A. At the end of the course he saw us individually, and handed out a page he had written about our poetry.

“Seamus got the Nobel for Literature the year after he taught me, though I think we can assume these two events are not causally related. Getting into that course, and the A are the things I’m proudest of, by a country mile.

“I didn’t acquire the degrees to become anything other than educated; that was ever my purpose… I wanted only to understand; it is a simple enough ambition.

“Have had the life of Riley, if you simply must know and it ain’t even over yet. Watch this space is my advice, okay?”

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