Dr Pearl Duncan was an Aboriginal teacher and academic who dedicated her life to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in education.
Pearl was an accomplished individual with a long history in the education sector. She taught students from primary school to university and contributed to research work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, in addition to heading several organisations and representing her community at the highest levels.
The Pearl Duncan Teaching Scholarship is named in her honour.
The scholarship provides 30 high-achieving Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders across 4 categories of scholarship support of up to $40,000 (before tax) over 4 years or up to $20,000 (before tax) over 2 years and eligibility for permanent employment in a Queensland state school for:
- secondary school graduates
- postgraduate students
- Department of Education employees
- post-school students.
To be eligible for this scholarship, candidates must be:
- of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent
- seek enrolment or continue in an approved undergraduate or postgraduate initial teacher education program
- commit to accepting employment as a teacher with the Department of Education immediately following course completion.
How to apply
Applications for the 2024 scholarship have now closed. Subscribe to receive an email alert when applications for the 2025 scholarship program open in Term 4.
Enquiries and further information
If you have any questions about this scholarship, contact our Scholarships and Grants team by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone on (07) 3055 2991.
2023 scholarship recipients
Bella Mahoney, Metropolian
Brianna Knight, North Queensland
Cassandra Von Senden, Central Queensland
Celeste Miller, Far North
Gwendoline Button, Darling Downs-South West
Haylee Cornelius, Darling Downs-South West
Jayden Elder, Metropolian
Jessica Addo, Far North
Kayla Donovan, Central Queensland
Keegan Irelandes, Central Queensland
Kevin O'Brien, Far North
Matthew McLean, Darling Downs-South West
O'Shai Whettam, South East
Piper Timms, Darling Downs-South West
Renee Maris, North Coast
Roman Marshall, Central Queensland
Shiniquia Morris, Far North
Tifinie Dangelmayer, South East
2023 grant recipients
Amber Ah-Quee, North Coast
Elyjah Deshong, North Coast
Jakkiah Colthup, Central Queensland
Kobi Udowika, South East
Wudarabin Snider, Far North
Dr Pearl Duncan: 1933–2022
Pearl Duncan was an education pioneer who lived her passion and worked continuously for the promise of a better future. She dedicated her life to improving not only the outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but to ensuring a firm foundation for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievers of tomorrow. Pearl was the first known tertiary-trained Aboriginal school teacher in Australia. Inspired by her own mother’s lesson that education is a right not a privilege, it is this belief that motivated her to encourage Indigenous participation in education.
Pearl Maud Duncan was born in 1933 in Emmaville, New South Wales. A member of the Kamilaroi language group, Pearl was a retired Australian teacher, anthropologist and academic. She demonstrated that rare ability to be fiercely committed to academic excellence and research, while never losing sight of the humanity in her life’s work. For 5 decades, she enthusiastically traversed the divide between academia and hands-on community involvement. Pearl was a powerful role model inspiring all Australians who met her or received the benefit of her pioneering achievements.
Pearl’s outstanding contribution to education, Indigenous issues and academic research over a period of 55 years is unparalleled. She was one of the first Indigenous Australians to pursue an academic career, teaching at universities both here and overseas. Pearl made acclaimed contributions to research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies, and represented her community at the highest governmental levels.
Pearl was a teacher, writer, academic, researcher, activist, welfare worker and pioneer. Pearl’s teaching career began in Northern Queensland and the Torres Strait in the 1950s. In 1977, she was recognised for her unique teaching experience and involvement with Aboriginal communities, and was appointed to the National Aboriginal Education Committee. For the next 30 years, Pearl continued to be a strong and inspiring advocate for Aboriginal people.
Pearl held a number of leadership positions in academic institutions, including Head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit at Queensland University of Technology where she developed courses, lectured and served on university committees, and as a lecturer at the Southern Cross University (then known as the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education) and the University of New England. She was also a visiting lecturer to prestigious overseas institutions such as the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and the University of Nebraska. She served on no fewer than 14 boards and committees of state and national significance, including the then Board of Teacher Registration, Queensland; Aboriginal Women’s Task Force (Prime Minister and Cabinet 1982–1985); Defence of Children International Committee and the Queensland University of Technology Equity Board.
Pearl held a PhD in Aboriginal Cultural Studies, a Master’s Degree in Education, a Bachelor of Letters Anthropology (Honours) and a NSW Teacher's Certificate.
In 2003, she received the Centenary of Federation Medal for increasing Aboriginal participation in education. In 2004, she was chosen as Queensland’s Senior Australian of the Year. Indeed, she was held in such affection and esteem that in 2005, the Department of Education renamed its Indigenous teaching bursaries in her honour – known, quite simply, as the Pearl Duncan Teaching Scholarships. In 2008, Pearl was named a Queensland Great, an honour which recognises the efforts and achievements of remarkable individuals for their invaluable contribution to the history and development of the state, and in 2014, she completed her doctoral thesis on Aboriginal humour in the face of oppression.
An accomplished author, Pearl developed a number of courses in Aboriginal Studies and designed and coordinated external courses for teachers already working in schools. She also contributed to other publications, including 'Shame' in the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia and 'A Teacher's Life' in Fighters and Singers.
Since 2000, more than 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers have graduated from the Pearl Duncan teaching scholarship program. They walk proudly on the path that Pearl has helped forge and are committed to making a difference as Indigenous teachers in schools across Queensland.