In 1992, Yuin sisters and local Aboriginal elders Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas incorporated their little family-run community organisation as part of the process of securing a footpath around a community lagoon.
Thirty years on, the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation has been awarded Organisation of the Year at the Local Government Regional NAIDOC Awards 2023.
The Illawarra-based grassroots community organisation was recognised for its devotion to raising the self-esteem, pride and dignity of young Aboriginal people and caring for Country and all elders.
Its current projects include “Ngaramura”, a program for high school children who are at risk of non-completion, The Homework Centre for primary school children, Deadly Women and Deadly Kids which tackles the issues of poor health outcomes for Aboriginal women and children, a community garden and a social enterprise program that creates opportunities for local Aboriginal artists of all ages to engage in culture.
Aunty Lorraine said it was all made possible thanks to the organisation’s incredible staff members, volunteers, community partners and artists including Sue Leppan, Michelle Wilson, Selai Storer, Nicole Archibald, Kristy ‘Lil’ Thomas, Allison Day, Donna Castagna, Jane Marton, and Dereke and Shane Brown.
“We got a shock when we won,” she laughed. “But we’ve been working 30 years in this little hall and now everything we’ve set out to do is starting to come to roots.
“Our artist cooperative is working, now we have a veggie garden happening … We have a lot of projects happening but thankfully, we’ve got a terrific team of people who have worked really hard to pull everything together.
“It’s good to be recognised for all of it.”
Aunty Lorraine dedicated the award to her late husband of 50 years, Cyril Thomas Brown, better known as Sonny Brown, who died in January this year.
“He would have been proud,” she said.
The Yuin elder said while the Illawarra had a way to go in terms of reconciliation efforts, she had seen great progress in the past three decades, thanks in no small part to hardworking individuals and organisations such as Coomaditchie.
“We’ve broken down a lot of barriers through our art programs and invited people in to give them an understanding about Aboriginal people and culture,” Aunty Lorraine said.
“This organisation has helped create better pathways for Aboriginal people and we’ll keep on doing that.”
The Local Government Regional NAIDOC Awards Ceremony celebrates the contribution and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Wollongong, Shellharbour, Kiama and the Shoalhaven.
Among its winners, Wiradjuri descendant Korin Koutsomihalis took out the Community Volunteer of the Year award for her efforts in the wellness space, including advocating for changes to NDIS packages to ensure elderly people have increased access to health, fitness and wellbeing programs.
Richard Ardler was named Community Representative of the Year for his work with South Coast Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation, helping build programs and initiatives focused on strengthening families and communities through early intervention, cultural preservation and holistic care.
The Outstanding Contribution to Reconciliation award recognised Tullimbar Public School for hosting an extraordinary Reconciliation Action Plan team led by non-Aboriginal teachers and community members. So far it has introduced cultural awareness workshops, Aboriginal language classes and the inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives across the curriculum.
Representatives collected the prestigious Aboriginal Elder of the Year Awards on behalf of highly respected community members Uncle Tom Brown and Aunty Annette Lonesborough.
Kamilaroi woman Amelia Wall was recognised as one of two Young Achievers of the Year for the impressive work she has completed with Minnamurra Primary School as a school-based trainee. She has worked with First Nations students on their learning plans, run cultural programs and helped develop the Minnamurra Public School Koori Kids Club.
And Wiradjuri woman from the Shoalhaven Emma McMahon, who is studying a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Wollongong and a Diploma in Community Services, was also awarded a Young Achievers of the Year award.
Recognised for her work completed with the Aboriginal Programs Team at Noah’s Inclusion Services, Ms McMahon said she was humbled to have had her efforts recognised among the calibre of her fellow awardees.
“There were so many highly deserving nominees, just to be nominated alongside them was an honour. To win was amazing,” she said.
For more information visit the Local Government Regional NAIDOC Awards 2023.