Olympian and former politician Nova Peris has been honoured by the Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership, taking home the national title.
The accolade acknowledges Ms Peris’ advocacy for domestic violence and suicide awareness, previously being a board member and national patron for Beyond Blue.
“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,” said the Yawuru, Gidja and Iwatja woman after receiving the award.
“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.”
Ms Peris’ ongoing commitment to advancing gender equality for women in sport and politics also stood out for the selection committee.
“When we were looking at nominations for our National award recipient, we agreed that Nova’s sustained commitment to advancing gender equality has been expansive,” Suzi Finkelstein, who chaired the awards selection process, told NITV News.
“Her promotion for women in sports, her advocacy in the Senate, and now in the public domain as an author, advisor and media spokesperson demonstrates her tenacity and wisdom. Her ongoing hard work sets an example for everyone.
“She is a trailblazer in every sense of the word and we could not be more proud to have her accepting this award.”
In 1996, Ms Peris first represented Australia in the Summer Olympics as part of the Australian Women’s Hockey team, becoming the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.
Then two years later at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, Ms Peris took home gold, but this time as a track star in the 200m sprint and the 4×100 metres relay.
She was named the ‘Young Australian of the Year’ in 1997, the same year she was made an Order of Australia.
Ms Peris was also the first Australian to run with the Sydney 2000 torch on home soil as part of the Olympic Games. It was at these games that she made it to the semi-finals for the 400m track and was on the relay team for the 4 x 100m, placing fifth.
She continues to remain the only person in the world to make it to two consecutive Summer Olympic Games finals in two different sports.
After a successful career as an athlete, in 2013, Ms Peris became the first Indigenous woman elected into federal parliament. She was sworn into parliament as a Labor senator on 12 November under the Gillard government.
In October last year, a portrait of Ms Peris was unveiled at Parliament House, part of the country’s longest-running art commissioning program — the Historic Memorials Collection. The portrait was the first to ever be painted by an Indigenous artist, Dr Jandamarra Cadd.
Ms Peris was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement at last year’s Dreamtime Awards in Sydney.
Indigenous women leaving their mark
Ashleigh Barty was honoured as the 2020 Queensland award winner as part of the Australian Awards for Excellence in Women’s Leadership.
The 23-year-old from Ipswich in QLD has seven Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles titles and ten WTA doubles titles to her name, making Ms Barty one of the most successful sporting figures in Australia.
In 2019 the young sporting star won the Miami Open, French Open, WTA Finals in Shenzhen and secured the year-end world number one title.
The Northern Territory recipient, Priscilla Atkins, received the accolade for her work in delivering justice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ensuring they are equal to others in the eyes of the law.
The Eastern Arrente woman from Central Australia is the CEO of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, the largest legal service in the NT providing culturally supportive legal aid to Indigenous people.
Ms Peris will accept her award at the Australian Women’s Leadership Symposiums held in Canberra in June.