Australia’s first Indigenous surgeon has been awarded the top gong at the 2023 National NAIDOC Week Awards.
Professor Kelvin Kong was named NAIDOC Person of Year at the awards in Brisbane on Saturday.
The awards kick of NAIDOC Week which runs from July 2 to 9. (NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee.)
The awards recognise “the outstanding contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make to improve the lives of people in their communities and beyond,” a NAIDOC statement read. “And to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues in the wider community.”
Surgeon on a mission
Professor Kong works at Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital and John Hunter Children’s Hospital, and is passionate about reducing hearing loss that is often caused by otitis media (middle ear disease).
According to a statement, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children experience the highest levels of chronic otitis media in the world.
“There are so many people who do so much work in this space that don’t get this kind of platform to talk about it and share their experience,” Prof Kong said in his acceptance speech.
“So, I do want to acknowledge and pay my respects to them – you have done such amazing work in this space.”
Award-winning filmmaker Rachel Perkins won the Creative Talent award.
The daughter of the late civil rights activist and politician Charles Perkins, Ms Perkins is a writer, director and producer of television drama, documentaries and films. Her work includes The Australian Wars series, Bran Nue Dae, Redfern Now, Mystery Road, and First Australians.
In her acceptance speech, she praised Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney for her work on the Voice referendum campaign, and implored Australians to get behind the “Yes” vote.
“Stand with us, Australia,” she said.
The Youth of the Year award went to marine scientist Courtney Burns from South Gippsland, Victoria.
The 25-year-old Gunaikurnai woman studies Marine Science at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, and has undertaken extensive research on sharks and how stressors like climate change are affecting them.
“NAIDOC Youth of the Year – that has a deadly ring to it, I reckon,” she said.
” I just want to thank everyone who has got me to where I am today.”
From footy to food
Daniel Motlop, a former footy star who played for North Melbourne and Port Adelaide in the AFL, received the Innovation Award.
Motlop co-founded the business Something Wild, which supplies native ingredients including bush apples and Kakadu plums to restaurants and supermarkets throughout Australia.
He called his win “overwhelming”.
“I didn’t think I’d be standing here 10 years out of football and accepting an award for food,” he said.
“You don’t want to just be seen as an Indigenous business, so I tried to really elevate that and become a mainstream business in what we do.”
This year’s theme for the awards was “For Our Elders”.
Linda Burney opened the awards and acknowledged what Indigenous Elders bring to the community.
“They are our trailblazers, our teachers,” she said.
“Our Elders are our leaders. The respect that Elders have within our community is a lesson to the rest of this country. Wisdom and patience, our Elders play an important role in our communities.
“In 2023, NAIDOC is dedicated to you. I am honoured to be here tonight and excited to see many people from around the country.”
Dedicated to others
In that spirit, the lifetime achievement award was awarded to Aunty Dr Naomi Mayers OAM.
The award is for a person who has dedicated their life to their community.
Aunty Dr Naomi, who began her career as a nurse at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital and Royal Children’s Hospital, “has developed and led some of the most enduring and fundamentally profound reforms in Aboriginal and Torres Strait health, both in terms of community-controlled services and the broader Australian health system,” read a statement.
All the winners
The full award list:
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Aunty Dr Naomi Mayers OAM
- Person of the Year: Professor Kelvin Kong
- Female Elder: Aunty Dr Matilda House-Williams
- Male Elder: William Tilmouth
- Sportsperson Award: Donnell Wallam
- Youth Award: Courtney Burns
- Creative Talent Award: Rachel Perkins
- Caring for Country and Culture: Lala Gutchen
- Education: Bubup Wilam Aboriginal Child and Family Centre
- Innovation: Daniel Motlop
For more information on Naidoc Week, which runs until July 9, visit here.
Feature image: National NAIDOC Facebook