Our leading women and girls in line for State honours
The NSW Women of the Year Awards recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution made by women across NSW.
13 February 2023
Public education is in the spotlight with the nomination of outstanding advocates and students for the NSW Women of the Year awards.
Gamilaraay woman Anne Dennis, who is nominated for the NSW Woman of Excellence Award, is an elected councillor for the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, co-chair of the NSW Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations and a lifetime member of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.
The former teacher, who has lived most of her life in Walgett, is a firm believer in the role of culturally safe education in improving education, health and social outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“In our remote areas there are not a lot of opportunities; education is so important as a pathway to gaining employment,” Ms Dennis said.
“That’s the main purpose, the value of an education; to make those life choices.”
Born on Namoi Aboriginal Reserve, Ms Dennis completed Year 12 at Walgett High School in 1976.
She gained her Bachelor of Education from Charles Sturt University and taught in Bathurst and Redfern, before returning to Walgett in the far west of NSW.
Over the years she has seen how language and culture need to be centred in education for Aboriginal students, and how this benefits communities.
“If you want to leave the community, then come back to the community, then you’ve got those options,” she said.
“It’s about supporting and building the capacity within community.”
Ms Dennis was influential in regional consultation that informed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and in obtaining pandemic support for outback communities.
Dharawal language advocate Dr Jodi Edwards has been nominated for NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year for her work spanning more than 20 years to improve cultural education in communities in the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, Campbelltown and the Sutherland Shire.
Dr Edwards is a curriculum reform advisor for Aboriginal education with the NSW Education Standards Authority, providing expertise and advice to support the curriculum reform and delivery process.
Young ones to watch
The One to Watch Award recognises girls and young women aged from seven to 17 years, who have demonstrated courage, strength, determination and kindness to help and support their communities.
Four public school students have been nominated, including Audrey Wood from Mount Kuring-gai Public School who raised more than $12,000 for the Leukemia Foundation through her 2022 Shave for a Cure campaign.
Soaring past her initial target of $10,000, Audrey held a garage sale, made hair scrunchies to sell, collected cans for recycling and approached businesses for donations and help.
“It’s nice to know that people recognise all my hard work, because it was hard,” the Year 4 student said, while acknowledging the support she received..
“If I didn’t have the community helping it wouldn’t have happened. My big sister, Maisie, was a big supporter too.”
Audrey’s goal is to raise awareness about the important work of the Leukemia Foundation.
“I’m hoping I might inspire other people to do it,” she said.
If you mention the name, Lucy Trease, to anyone with connections to Alstonville High School, they will tell you about a caring and approachable young woman who is a big part of the local community.
“She’s always so helpful and such a positive role model,” Alstonville High principal Sandra Rosner said.
The Year 12 student, pictured on the home page, runs a sourdough bakehouse business with her siblings, and in the wake of last year’s devastating floods in the Northern Rivers they worked overtime to make bread for evacuation centres in affected communities around Alstonville.
A student leader, Lucy is also a dedicated soccer coach and a member of her local swimming club.
Waniora Public School Year 3 student Penelope Towney has turned the spotlight towards her Aboriginal culture with great success.
In 2021 she produced the short film, ‘The Land We’re On with Penelope Towney’, in which she talks in her family languages of Wiradjuri and Palawa kani about the importance of Acknowledgment of Country and Welcome to Country cultural traditions.
The nine-year-old is preparing to launch her own YouTube channel this year.
If helping others was a school subject, Ulladulla High School student Coralie Smith would surely receive top marks.
While still in primary school she collected warm jackets and blankets for people experiencing homelessness.
The keen Sea Scout has also started a campaign to write letters to Afghani refugees, and more recently helped to establish a ‘give what you can, take what you need’ community pantry for those struggling with increases in the cost of living.
The winners of the 2023 NSW Women of the Year Awards will be announced at the ICC Sydney: International Convention and Exhibition Centre on 9 March.