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Ngarrindjeri nation’s heroes celebrated for NAIDOC Week 2023
From famous artists and sports stars to hard-working students, 11 inspirational Indigenous people have been recognised with NAIDOC Week awards.
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Elders, schoolchildren, a national-team basketballer and an internationally renowned artist are among the Ngarrindjeri people who have been recognised with NAIDOC Week awards this year.
About 200 people gathered outside Murray Bridge’s council office on Monday morning, following a march across the old road bridge, to celebrate some of the region’s high achievers.
Emcee Bessie Rigney gave special thanks to the Indigenous elders present, in keeping with the NAIDOC Week theme for 2023: “for our elders”.
“Our elders are our cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones, who pick us up in our low moments and celebrate our high ones, who cook us a feed to comfort us and pull us into line when we need them to,” she said.
“They guide our generations and pave the way for us to take (the) paths we can take today.
“(They) guide us not only through generations of advocacy and activism, but in everyday life and how to place ourselves in the world.
“We draw strength from their knowledge and experience.”
Rita and Michael Lindsay gave a welcome to country with song and dance, and Ms Lindsay told the traditional story of the wa:tji pulyeri, the blue wren.
Then it was on to the awards.
Here’s who won what.
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Elders of the year
Four awards were given out in the elder of the year category, rather than just one male and one female, in recognition of the NAIDOC Week theme.
Uncle Russell Milera was recognised for his service as an Aboriginal support worker at Tyndale Christian School, where he helps Aboriginal students understand their identity and connect with their community.
He was a founding member of the school, and a survivor of the Stolen Generation.
Uncle Darryl Cameron was honoured for his work as a goal umpire and gate attendent with the River Murray Football League and Imperial Football Club, where he is a life member; and as a closing the gap officer with the Riverland Mallee Coorong Local Health Network.
Aunty Julie Long was thanked for a lifetime of work for the Raukkan Community Council, following in her mother’s footsteps by managing the hall next door to the famous church, helping families hold funerals there, and also for answering the phones at the council’s office.
Another award was given to Aunty Valda Rigney, a “quiet achiever (with a) beautiful, infectious smile” who has shared her experience on the boards of numerous community organisations, bringing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together.
It had been a privilege, she said: “I’ve always loved being involved with young people and the rest of my community”.
Young people of the year
One of the two young people recognised was Gordon Rigney – “Gordy junior junior” – an Aboriginal health practitioner and nursing student, respected community member and leader by example.
He established a rapport with patients from all walks of life, announcer Jarrod Manuel said: “his approachability, congeniality and calm, capable demeanour instantly puts clients at ease”.
The other was Phoebe Kartinyeri, a caring and pleasant future leader with a growing expertise in finance and passion for the Ngarrindjeri language.
Worker of the year
Murray Bridge North School student support officer and Aboriginal community engagement officer Nathan Tarasenko was one of two workers of the year recognised at Monday’s ceremony.
Learning and teaching about culture was his passion: he always got to school early to set up the fire pit and share creation stories, and planned to continue his career by studying to become a teacher.
“It’s my privilege to be able to be in schools and share knowledge and culture with you mob, so thank you,” he said.
The other worker of the year was a colleague at North School: Felicia Kartinyeri, who helped connect Aboriginal students with their family trees, culture and language; and creates work sheets, posters, flash cards and other resources classroom teachers used to teach the Ngarrindjeri language.
She always cooked something up for school events, and often took children to footy or basketball.
“Everything I do is for all of the minya porlar (little children),” she said.
Sports person of the year
She has won just about everything else she has aimed at, including a bronze medal at the FIBA 3x3 World Cup in Austria last month – that’s why basketballer Alex Wilson was named sports person of the year.
She won a Commonwealth Games bronze in Birmingham last year, has represented Australia on numerous other occasions, and has played for several different clubs in the National Women’s Basketball League.
Her very proud grandmother accepted the award in her absence, telling the audience to look out for her at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“Thank you so much for giving it to her, ‘cause she really deserves it,” she said, beaming.
Junior encouragement award
A special award was given to a North School student with 100 per cent attendence so far this year: Lara Holland.
Her reading was coming along in leaps and bounds, Mr Manuel said, and she was always a positive influence in language and culture programs and the Nunga choir.
She had also performed in front of the whole school with her family’s dance group.
Artist of the year
Finally, recognition was given to a Ngarrindjeri artist of international renown: Aunty Ellen Trevorrow.
As a child she had watched her grandmother weave rushes in the traditional way, but not until she attended a workshop with Dorrie Kartinyeri did she really pick up the art.
She has since run countless workshops at schools and community events, and her works have been exhibited around the world; one has even been shown at the Louvre in Paris.