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Celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ achievements and cultures

The achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in education, caring for Country and community, policy, the arts and sports have been recognised in the 2022 National NAIDOC Awards.

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks, a Murri woman and the University of Queensland’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement), received the Education Award 2022.

Fredericks has spent over 30 years directly involved in organisations working to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially in regional and remote Australia. Her multidisciplinary research has a strong practice-based commitment to social justice and improving health, education and life outcomes for Indigenous peoples.

A powerful advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Fredericks has many roles and responsibilities. She received the Public Health Association of Australia’s inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Award in 2019, and is also a director of Croakey Health Media.

Professor Fredericks speaking to the NAIDOC Ball, via video. Screenshot from NITV

Community voice

The Koori Mail newspaper, whose efforts in supporting flood-affected communities in northern NSW have been widely acclaimed, won the Innovation Award 2022. It is the only fully Indigenous-owned and managed newspaper in Australia. Founded in 1911, it is a trusted voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a circulation of around 10,000 and readership estimated to be close to 100,000 people.

Based in Lismore, the Koori Mail was significantly impacted by the floods, affecting both the organisation and those who worked for it. However, the paper immediately pivoted to distribute emergency information and provide disaster relief. Their coordination and leadership provided support to First Nations people and the wider community in and around Lismore during this difficult time.

The Koori Mail team were on stage for the award

Cultural determinants

The Lifetime Achievement Award 2022 was presented to Dr Stanley ‘Stan’ Grant Senior AM, an Elder and a warrior of the Wiradjuri people from south-west New South Wales. He grew up in Griffith, NSW and spent time with his grandfather Wilfred Johnson (known as Budyaan) who spoke seven languages and taught Dr Grant the Wiradjuri language.

Grant, his brother, the late Pastor Cec Grant OAM, and Dr John Rudder have been crucial to the reconstruction of the Wiradjuri language, travelling and re-teaching their language from a small base of anthropological records, rebuilding the spoken and sung language for urban and rural community members. Their collaboration for more than three decades has seen the production of many resources, including a dictionary, children’s books, song books and university texts.

Walter Jackson, a Ngarrindjeri man from South Australia, received the Caring for Country and Culture Award 2022. He emphasises and promotes the cultural, environmental, and spiritual knowledge of Traditional Owners to improve and sustain the well-being of Country, land and water. He has worked in a number of roles on significant projects in the Ngarrindjeri region, including as Chief Executive of Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation.

He is an advocate of improved employment opportunities for First Nations and young people in water management and land-care projects. Under his leadership, the Ngopamuldi Aboriginal Corporation secured funding for projects around cockle harvesting, nursery irrigation and soft plastic recycling. This has allowed Ngopamuldi to provide training and job opportunities, including for inmates at Mobilong prison.

Dr Lois Peeler AM, a Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri woman, is the Female Elder of the Year 2022. Her family comes from the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserves where activism for improved conditions for Aboriginal people was deeply embedded. In the 1960s she became Australia’s first Aboriginal model before joining the all-female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander singing group the Sapphires, which toured Vietnam during one of the world’s harshest wars.

In 1983, Peeler and her sister Hyllus Maris established Australia’s only Aboriginal girls’ boarding school, Worawa Aboriginal College. Peeler also worked as the Manager of the Aboriginal Employment Unit of the Victorian Public Service Board and headed Aboriginal Tourism Australia for over ten years. She worked with the Victorian Parliament to create a free e-learning resource for the Victorian curriculum called “Aboriginal Change Makers”, and currently chairs the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee while being involved with the implementation of the Marrung Aboriginal Education Action Plan.

Uncle Jack Charles, a Bunurong and Wiradjuri man, and a member of the Stolen Generations, is the 2022 Male Elder of the Year. He grew up in the Salvation Army Boys’ Home at Box Hill, Melbourne as the only Aboriginal child, not knowing his heritage until the age of 17. He is widely acknowledged as the grandfather of Indigenous theatre, co-founding Australia’s first Indigenous theatre group, Nindethana, meaning ‘place of corroboree’, or ‘ours’, at Melbourne’s Pram Factory in 1971. His plays and performances have won many awards over the years, and have toured across Australia and internationally. He is a respected Elder on the Council of the Archie Roach foundation, and a tireless advocate for young men caught up in the prison system. He made history this year as the first Indigenous Elder to speak at the Victorian Truth-telling Commission. The Yoorrook Commission will establish official record of Indigenous experiences since colonisation, and Uncle Jack spoke honestly and with raw emotion about his experiences.

Elijah Manis, who is from the islands of Masig and Poruma in the Torres Strait, is the 2022 Youth of the Year. He is passionate about social justice issues and the effects of climate change on the Torres Strait. His dream is to ensure that the elders can rest in peace on their island home without fear of it being swallowed by the oceans. He also wants to ensure that in another 10,000 years his people can still practise their cultural dance, tradition and language on the shores of the islands where they were originally established. He hopes his forefathers will guide him and that, together with his Elders, he can use the power of the sacred saying “The land and sea is yours, it is now your turn to look after it” to heal country.

See here for more details of the other award winners, who include Ash Barty AO, Person of the Year 2022; Buddy Franklin, Sportsperson of the Year 2022; and Lowell Hunter, Creative Talent Award 2022.

(The biographical details for the recipients above were sourced from the NAIDOC website.)

More from Twitter

NAIDOC Week is also a time for celebrating the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health professionals and organisations.