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Victoria’s Indigenous Vocational Education and Training community celebrated in Wurreker Awards

Dechlan Brennan -

The winners of the annual Wurreker Awards have been announced at an event hosted by the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association (VAEAI).

Now in its 18th year, the awards celebrate the success of Victoria's Indigenous people in Vocational Education and Training, with VAEAI noting the awards help highlight "how high-quality learning and experience can open new pathways for Koorie people".

VAEAI President, Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman Geraldine Atkinson, said the awards were a highlight of the Koorie education calendar.

"Congratulations to the finalists and the Wurreker Award Winners, thank you for your work and dedication, for creating pathways, meaningful employment and culturally relevant programs that enrich our learners and our community," she said.

Skills and TAFE Minister, Gayle Tierney, said the awards were a recognition of the people and organisations delivering "culturally appropriate and co-designed vocational education for First Nations people and the impact on student outcomes."

The government said the long-standing relationship between them and VAEAI helped deliver the Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan - which sets out the vision for all Indigenous Victorians to help achieve their individual learning aspirations - and the Wurreker Strategy - which supports Koorie learners in vocational education and training.

Victoria's Minister for Treaty and First Peoples, Natalie Hutchins, said the government was "excited" to celebrate all Indigenous learners in Victoria's training sector.

"We'll continue to place inclusion and best practices at the forefront," she said.

One of the individual award winners was Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warrung woman, Sheeneeya Penrith, who won the community-based employee award.

Working at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and specialising in the Balit Ngulu youth program, Ms Penrith provides legal assistance and representation to members of the community - aged 12-21 - across Melbourne and Shepparton.

She attends courts and prisons to support clients and help link them into community-based programs.

Gunai woman Joanne Brunt received the Public Sector Employee Award. Her work at the Latrobe City Council's Steps to the Future Indigenous Employment Program.

Ms Brunt has supported over 100 Koorie people in Gippsland by getting them into jobs in health care, land management, construction and admin with a retention rate of 90 per cent.

Other winners include Ballardong man Shannon Winmar, who took out the Private Sector Employee, for his work undertaking an apprenticeship in civil construction through First Nations Traffic management, and the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-operative, who took out the Community Employer award, for their running of a Careers Hub pilot program over the past 12 months that focuses on helping Koorie Community members gain employment.

In a special recognition award, Aunty May Owen was honoured for her long-standing commitment to Indigenous education.

Aunty May served as the Chairperson of the Barwon Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group for over 15 years. The volunteer group helps drive educational advocacy from a local level and provides advice on student needs for all ages - from kindergarten through to post-compulsory learning.

"It has been a privilege to serve the community in the education space, all our children and grandchildren are in the school system so we are always thinking and talking about education," she said in a statement to VAEAI.

A full list of all the winners can be found here.

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