Super Nova shines at NAIDOC celebrations

The NSW Department of Education’s celebration of NAIDOC week kicked off with a star-studded event at its Parramatta office. Pascal Adolphe reports.

A woman standing on a lectern on stage in front of a large screen. A woman standing on a lectern on stage in front of a large screen.
Image: Australian Olympic great Nova Peris was the star attraction at the Department’s official NAIDOC Week event.

Former athlete and politician Nova Peris was guest of honour as the NSW Department of Education kicked off NAIDOC Week celebrations last Tuesday.

Elite sporting, political and singing talent, nurtured by public education, was on display during the event at the Department’s Parramatta office.

The headline act was Ms Peris, the first Aboriginal person to win a gold medal at an Olympic Games and the first Aboriginal woman elected to federal Parliament.

Ms Peris was a member of the triumphant Hockeyroos team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Later, she was then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s, ‘captain’s pick’ for a Northern Territory Senate ticket at the 2013 elections.

Ms Peris was also the Young Australian of the Year in 1997.

During the NAIDOC event, Ms Peris recounted her family history - from her birth in the Northern Territory to a mum who was part of the Stolen Generations - to her triumph on the Olympic hockey field and her time in the Australian Senate.

She said having an inspirational role model was instrumental in making her Olympic dream come true.

“I remember when I was nine years old watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics and telling my mum I wanted to be this Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci,” Ms Peris said.

“It’s so important to have role models and people that can inspire you, and this Romanian gymnast who scored perfect 10s was my inspiration.

“I said to my mum ‘I want to go to the Olympics one day’, and her remark was ‘well, you’d better start training’. So, I lived by this: ‘dream it, believe it’.

“In sport, I did what I loved, and I loved what I did. All the training, all the sacrifices and all that sort of stuff, it was never hard work, because I could always see that light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ms Peris said education and sport were “our great equaliser”.

“I was publicly educated,” she said.

“For me as a young kid growing up, everything was education, education, education. I grew up in a housing commission. I didn’t know any better. It was just a roof over our head. I could play sport and I could go to school.

“Education is discipline – that’s what my stepfather used to always say – you’re nothing without an education.”

A man standing at a lectern on stage in front of a large screen. A man standing at a lectern on stage in front of a large screen.
Image: Secretary Murat Dizdar acknowledged the injustices inflicted on Aboriginal people at the Department’s NAIDOC event.

'Not just a moment to stop and pause'

Department Secretary Murat Dizdar reinforced Ms Peris’ statement that education was “the great leveller”.

“It is the passport … that can create better outcomes and I am determined to get that better under my stewardship for the 74,000 Aboriginal young people in our care,” he said.

“I’m very proud as Secretary of the way we celebrate and recognise NAIDOC Week in our schools.

“Our schools do a tremendous job in making sure that it’s not just a moment that we stop and pause, but that we do the right thing and do make it our business to bring in community, to respect community, respect our First Nation’s people and grow our understanding of Aboriginal education so we can get it right for community and Aboriginal students.”

Mr Dizdar also acknowledged the many injustices suffered by Aboriginal people.

“This year’s theme for NAIDOC is ‘Keep the Fire Burning, Black, Loud and Proud’ and that’s what we need to get behind,” he said.

“We all need to listen and to raise our voices to help those whose voices have not always been heard.

“It’s not long ago that we committed atrocities as government, as public servants, who delivered on that policy of the day.”

Ms Peris said it was important to acknowledge and remember the past suffering of Aboriginal people, but said “you can’t beat hate with hate, only love can do that”.

“We can’t change the past, but it’s good you have leaders within the Department that can acknowledge the historical injustices,” she said.

“When I talk to (Aboriginal) kids, I always say you don’t have to go too far to find strength and resilience. It’s in your blood. It’s in your DNA. It’s in your ancestors.”

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