Aboriginal students shine at Nanga Mai Awards

The outstanding achievements of Aboriginal students and staff and community members working in Aboriginal education were recognised today.

31 March 2021
A cameraman in the foreground films Aboriginal student dancers.
Image: Virtual celebration: Endeavour Sports High's Mulgu Dancers perform for the Nanga Mai ceremony.

An impressive array of student excellence was on show at the Nanga Mai Awards today including school duxes, founders of charities, national and State sporting champions and a student who achieved extraordinary growth in numeracy and literacy in just three months.

The efforts of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff, schools and school leaders was also acknowledged including Taree High School principal Allison Alliston who received the Outstanding Leadership in Aboriginal Education Award.

Aboriginal Education Consultative Group outgoing president Cindy Berwick was also recognised for her advocacy and leadership during her almost 14-year tenure as AECG president.

The 15th annual Nanga Mai awards, held virtually this morning, celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal students and the continued commitment and accomplishments of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff, school communities, and community members.

Among the student winners Mia Thom, from Byron Bay High School, and Patrick Kerrigan, from Nowra High School were joint winners of the Highest-Achieving Aboriginal Student in the 2020 HSC award.

Mia received a 99.95 ATAR and is now studying law at the University of Sydney, while Patrick, Nowra’s school captain last year, was school dux with an ATAR of 97.85. He is now studying medicine at the University of NSW.

Albion Park High School student Ashley Van Vliet-Williams made history as the school’s first Aboriginal student to achieve dux and is also studying medicine at the University of Wollongong.

North Nowra Public School student Shae Buchanan, now in Year 5, received an Encouragement Award for her commitment to studies during the COVID pandemic.

In 2020 Shae’s attendance improved markedly and she achieved 1.5 years’ academic growth in numeracy and literacy in just three months.

Her family joined Shae at her school today to watch the online ceremony.

In total 33 winners in 17 categories were recognised across the arts, sport, leadership and academic excellence.

Leadership and community outreach were also recognised with Piper Stewart, from Murrumbidgee Regional High School rewarded for creating a learn to swim charity for Aboriginal children.

The then 13-year-old organised a swimathon and swam more than eight kilometres, raising just over $18,000, which has funded 94 local Aboriginal children to have at least one term of lessons.

Likewise, Northern Beaches Secondary College Manly Campus student Stephanie Evans received a Student Leadership Award as the founder and director of Seas of Change.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning, Sarah Mitchell, said the prestigious event highlighted the outstanding qualities of public education in NSW and was a welcome celebration after a challenging 2020.

“The Nanga Mai Awards display the department’s ongoing dedication to celebrating Aboriginal students, their achievements and their cultural identity,” Ms Mitchell said.

“As Minister for Education, I sincerely thank everyone for their tireless work in supporting Aboriginal education in our NSW Public Schools and I extend my warm congratulations to all award winners.”

The Nanga Mai awards highlight the strong relationships and initiatives within NSW public schools, including NSW Education’s renewed partnership agreement with the NSW AECG and its ongoing commitment to the Connected Communities strategy.

“The Nanga Mai awards are one of my favourite events of the year as we get to pause, reflect and celebrate excellence in Aboriginal education across NSW,” Karen Jones, executive director, Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships, said.

“I would like to emphasise the importance of nominating your deadly students, staff, schools and community partners - the success of these awards involves our community coming together and acknowledging the outstanding work within our school communities.” 

View the livestream of the award ceremony and see the full list of winners online.

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