As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, National Indigenous Times shines a spotlight on Australia’s incredible First Nations women.

A celebration of female governance and guidance, Women & Leadership Australia has announced the winners of the 2020 Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership, with three First Nations women receiving awards at the event.

Nova Peris OAM OLY was the recipient of the National Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership. With a career spanning from sporting, to politics, Peris is a strong and resilient leader.

“I am absolutely thrilled to have been awarded this wonderful honour. There are so many worthy recipients, as well as some incredible past winners of this prestigious award, and I am so proud to now be recognised alongside them,” Peris said.

“Being in a position of influence is a privilege, but it is also a reminder for me to always stay humble and true to myself, and to remain eternally grateful to those giants whose shoulders I have stood atop all through my life.”

“I am, and always will be, forever grateful to the matriarchs of my family for all I have achieved to date.”

Peris joins the ranks of previous winners, including Tracey Spicer AM, Julia Gillard, Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, Elizabeth Broderick AO, Ann Sherry AO, and Gail Kelly.

CEO of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), Priscilla Atkins received the Northern Territory Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.

An Eastern Arrernte woman, Atkins was drawn to the legal service through personal experience.

“I was living in Alice [Springs] at the time and a lot of our family are in and out of jail. Just listening to some of these stories, some of the court processes and some of these processes don’t use common sense,” Atkins said.

“There were things where my cousin was in jail and then he finished, and they opened the door and let him out. But, okay, who helped him to get home? Who helped him to get onto Centrelink? Who helped him to get a job? They can’t do this on their own and in the mental state they are in.”

Atkins noted the changes being made across the country within the legal care system, changes headed by organisations such as NAAJA.

“We are not wanting to be a sausage factory pumping people through the criminal justice courts. We need to identify and take a few steps back to look at why are our mob coming into contact with court systems and how we do we break that cycle?”

“When our mob come to court, they don’t come to court with one issue. They come with a cluster of issues, so we can’t address one without addressing the others.

“NAAJA addresses that whole wrap-around service of social workers, lawyers, client service officers, so we can put people back on track. So, they are moving forward into a positive future.”

Atkins feels the journey to the position she holds today has been a calling and something embedded deep within her.

“Being an Aboriginal person, working in an Aboriginal organisation, and I suppose it doesn’t matter what organisation that is, that’s not your job. That is your life.”

“You have to deal with that every day. We are the ones who get the phone calls at 1am or 2am in the morning when someone has died, or someone has been killed. We deal with that [sort of thing] every day.

“For me, that’s just what I do. That is what I’ve been raised to do. My grandmother always said, ‘You look after your family, you look after your people and that is what you do.’”

Ngaragu woman, Ashleigh Barty received the Queensland Award for Excellence in Women’s Leadership. Barty is both a world champion tennis player and the 2020 Young Australian of the Year.

By Rachael Knowles