Gugu Badhun/Ngadjon-ji academic Dr Janine Gertz has been announced as the winner of the 2023 Stanner Award.
The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) prestigious biennial award recognises the best academic writing by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander author.
Dr Gertz's winning entry was her PhD thesis, titled 'Gugu Badhun Sovereignty, Self-Determination and Nationhood'.
She said the award was a shock, but also an honour, as the thesis was one that encompassed her identity.
"I was just really happy and overwhelmed with that. To be shortlisted is an honour in itself, and then to be told that I was the first prize winner, that was just completely overwhelming," she said
"I understand it was a very competitive field this time round. So, I think that that's testimony to the efforts of all of our Indigenous scholarly leadership in the higher education sector and the wave of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander higher degrees by research students coming through this amazing field, people doing very interesting new and innovative projects.
"To be picked first amongst that field is just a complete honour, shock and surprise. But also, you know, I'm, I'm proud because I, you know, put a lot of work into my thesis. A lot of me, a lot of my families put into that. So it's, and my cultural identity is in that thesis so I just like so proud and happy."
When asked to describe her thesis, Dr Gertz said she was looking towards a post-colonial future.
"The PHD topic was Gugu Badhun Sovereignty, Self-Determination and Nationhood. This title came to me or the project came to me because I really could see that Gugu Badhun, in a way, being in a Gugu Badhun culture, our political identity is in threat, and the biggest threat to that is the Australian state and all of its operations," she said.
"So, it made me start thinking about what we could do…this study is about more [it's] about what Gugu Badhun could be rather than what it was, or what it is currently.
"It's looking towards that future and a post-colonial future, I hope, in which we can escape this kind of mode of survival that we're currently in and move towards a way of living that is about thriving."
She said academia had come "late in the piece" to her as a mature aged student, but the thesis wouldn't have come together without that lived experience.
"I don't think I would have been able to write the kind of thesis that I did without the level of knowledge, the trust that I have with my community and my people in Gugu Badhun," she said.
"Having that maturity also to know and understand the knowledge that's been passed on through my ancestors and, you know, my grandparents, my uncles, my Aunties, and my, and my parents."
Mr Leonard Hill, interim CEO, said the award "recognises, supports, and promotes" exceptional contributions from Indigenous academic writers.
"At the heart of our Institute's mission lies the commitment to facilitate and publish exceptional research within Australian Indigenous studies," he said.
He said Dr Gertz's thesis was selected out of a record 21 entries.
"The quality and number of entries to the 2023 Stanner Award demonstrates the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic writing," he said.
"The judges described her [Dr Gertz] thesis as 'exciting', 'beautifully written', and they said that it 'imagines otherwise.'"
Mr Hill also announced that due to their "very high standard of writing and research," the judges have highly commended the two shortlisted theses by Dr Stanford Bartholomew, titled 'The relationship between local governments and Indigenous institutions: a comparative case study,' and Dr Wendy Hermeston, whose thesis was titled 'Safe, Protected … Connected? The Best Interests of Aboriginal Children and Permanency Planning in the NSW Care and Protection System.'
The Stanner Award is open to Indigenous academic writers and comes with a $5,000 prize. The winner also receives editorial support that leads to publication by Aboriginal Studies Press - a publishing arm of AIATSIS - and an inscribed glass eel trap sculpture, created by Arnette woman, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello OAM.
The award acknowledges the late Emeritus Professor WEH (Bill) Stanner, whose contribution led to the establishment of AIATSIS.
The full list of nominees and their submission titles were:
Dr Ash Francisco - From Protection to Welfare: orchestrated disadvantage in New South Wales 1937–1943.
Dr Ben Wilson - Stories for Country: Developing a Place-Based Pedagogy Based on Indigenous Ways of Knowing.
Professor Brenda Croft - Kurrwa to Kartak: Hand-Made/Held-Ground.
Dr Brett Biles - 'Strong Men': Aboriginal community development of a cardiovascular exercise and health education program.
Dr Eddie Cubillo - Defending the Defenceless: Indigenous Self-Determination and Legal Services in Australia.
Dr Fiona Wirrer-George - The Call of Lineage: A Living Epistemology.
Ms Glenda Kickett - Benanginy Dangalang, Picking Everlastings: A Story to Listen and Learn.
Dr Jacynta Krakouer - Journeys of connecting: Understanding cultural connection for First Nations children and young people in out-of-home care.
Dr Jo-Anne Edwards - Weaving the past into the future: the continuity of Aboriginal cultural practices in the Dharawal and Yuin nations.
Dr Kirsten Thorpe - Unclasping the White Hand: Reclaiming and Refiguring the Archives to Support Indigenous Wellbeing.
Dr Kylie Close - The return activated sludge sidestream process and the role of Tetrasphaera, a fermenting polyphosphate accumulating organism.
Dr Mitchell Rom - Navigating the Interface: A critical insight into some of the key challenges with working, learning and contemporary policy in Indigenous education at university through storied experiences.
Dr Rose Barrowcliffe - Reading between the lines: Uncovering Butchulla history in the K'gari Research Archive.
Dr Samantha Cooms - Decolonising Disability: Quandamooka Weaving.
Dr Troy Meston - Coloniality, Education and Indigenous Nation Building.
Dr Wendy Somerville - Koori Critical Storying Re-imagining to re-connect with memories, archives, and Country.