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While Aboriginal society is characterised by its relatively egalitarian social life, individual elders within groups generally rise to prominence on the basis of their traditional knowledge. The heritage of leadership is manifest today in the work of former and current politicians, jurists, educators and human right activists. On a smaller scale, urban, regional and remote communities also have their own leaders that often act and speak on behalf of their people.

Our elders encourage our younger generations to pursue learning and civic involvement so as to forge a new way and a fair go that will allow all of us to contribute equally to the nation’s future.

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Patrick Dodson chats to the Young Freedom Riders at the handover of the Panel for Constitutional Recognition’s report to the Prime Minister on 19 January 2012. Photo courtesy of Reconciliation Australia

The Young Freedom Riders are a group of Central Coast High School students who rode across NSW in a re-creation of the 1965 Freedom Ride. The students visited Indigenous communities on their tour, collecting ideas on constitution reform, which were then presented to the Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians in 2011.

The Panel presented its report Recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Constitution to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard in early 2012. In its Report, the Panel unanimously endorsed a specific proposal to amend the Constitution.

If adopted, this amendment would:

1. Recognise the prior occupation and continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples;

2. Acknowledge the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to these lands and waters;

3. Remove the ability of States and Territories to bar certain races from voting [section 25];

4. Remove the capacity of governments to make laws to the detriment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples or the people of any race [section 51(xxvi)]; and

5. Insert a protection against discrimination on the basis of race, colour or ethnicity.

Source: www.antar.org.au/constitutional_recognition.

group of women walking

(L-R) Solicitor Terri Janke, ACT-1 Group chief executive Janice Bryant Howroyd, AIMSC CEO Natalie Walker and LBF Consulting CEO Lani Blanco pictured walking through Sydney, New South Wales. Janice Bryant Howroyd is founder and chief executive officer of ACT-1 Group, the largest employment agency owned by a minority woman in the US. Photo Jane Dempster, © Newspix / News Ltd / 3rd Party Managed Reproduction & Supply Rights.


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Australia’s ‘Renaissance’ Man.

High Achiever.

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Congress Co-Chair Les Malezer elaborates on the terms 'sovereignty' and 'self-determination' in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Photo © National Congress of Australia's First Peoples.

The Indigenous Leadership Network Victoria was launched in 2008. The network aims to bring together information, resources, mentoring programs and people to inform and build the capacity of Indigenous leadership in Victoria. Although it is a few years old now, the ILNV message stick film still contains many relevant messages. Speaking on behalf of the organisation are members of the board of directors articulating their vision for Indigenous Australia and the need for leadership by Indigenous Victorians in their communities and Indigenous Australians as a whole.

ILNV Director Trevor Pearce says a major focus on the network must be to develop a strong generation of future leaders. ‘We need to seize that opportunity with young Indigenous Australian to take us to the next generation and on—young Indigenous Australia is ready,’ Trevor says.

Indigenous Leadership Network Victoria Message Stick launch film, 2008. Photo © Indigenous Leadership Network Victoria, www.ilnv.com.au.

This clip is from the Congress Peoples Forum held in Canberra on 24 and 25 January 2012, where members and speakers from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples were assembled to give first-hand recollections of the early days of the Tent Embassy, as well as different perspectives on the current state of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty and self-determination.

The clip is unedited and provides the opportunity to listen to Congress Co-Chair Les Malezer provide definitions of sovereignty and self-determination and how these definitions apply to Indigenous people in Australia. The sound quality is poor in parts but it is well worth watching.


Vicki Maikutena Matson-Green has been included on the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women for service to Aboriginal affairs.

‘Aunty Vicki ... is one of the strongest Aboriginal advocates I know in this State’, said Sharon Dennis in 2007.

Vicki Matson-Green is of the Palawa people and grew up in an extended family on Flinders Island. Her achievements are many. An advocate for the recognition of Aboriginal history and Aboriginal rights in Tasmania, she has undertaken higher education, been a champion for students, and an adviser to the University of Tasmania. She is active within the writing community, has published papers on the Palawa people and their history, and worked with an Aboriginal elder to help produce her biography. She’s been a committee member within a range of organisations, including providing advice to arts bureaucrats. Her work with the Indigenous Services unit of Centrelink helped change the way that department related to Aboriginal people. Vicki is soon to move home to Flinders Island where she hopes to establish a garden centre with an arts café attached through which Tasmanian Aboriginal arts will be displayed and sold.

Text and photo courtesy Vicki maikutena Matson-Green.

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Vicki Matson-Green with her daughter, Tarni.


His portrait features on Australia’s $50 banknote, but few Australians know much about David Unaipon, who was a man of incredible achievements.

Born at the Point McLeay mission in South Australia (Raukkan) in 1872, Unaipon was the son of a Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal evangelist, James Ngunaitponi, and his wife, Nymbulda. An intelligent and visionary man denied a higher education, Unaipon had a love of science that was reflected in his ability for ‘making things that worked’. He designed a sheep shearing handpiece which converted circular motion to lateral motion and lodged patents for various other inventions, including a helicopter based on the aerodynamics of the boomerang. Desperate for his Aboriginal culture to be understood, Unaipon worked to ensure that ‘an enduring record of our customs, beliefs and imaginings’ were preserved — he believed there was a similarity between Christian and Aboriginal values. He represented Aboriginal people’s views at two royal commissions (1913 and 1926) and inquiries into Aboriginal Affairs succeeded in influencing government policy.

Unaipon wrote stories and poetry. In 1930 his Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines was usurped and published under the name of William Ramsay Smith; it was not until 2001 that a new edition restored Unaipon’s authorship. His role as a writer is honoured annually by the David Unaipon award.

In 2004 Frances Rings choreographed a dance piece for Bangarra Dance Theatre, influenced by Unaipon’s obsession with perpetual motion, and his conception of a machine whose movement would be self-sustaining.

Source: V Seekee 2000, '"One ilan man": the Torres Strait Light Infantry', Wartime, 12, Australian War Memorial, Canberra.