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Nanga Mai Awards celebrate excellence in NSW Aboriginal Education

Jess Whaler -

The New South Wales Department of Education's 18th Annual Nanga Mai Awards were recently held in Tumbalong (Darling Harbour) on Dharug Country.

Monday's event was held in partnership with the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), a non-for-profit Aboriginal peak body organisation that provides advice to the NSW Government on matters relating to education and training from an Aboriginal community viewpoint.

The celebratory event saw more than 24 students, staff and community members awarded for their achievements in various academic areas.

They included outstanding academic excellence, student leadership, sport, public speaking, creative arts, outstanding contribution to Aboriginal education, Aboriginal languages, outstanding early education and care service and outstanding contribution to educational achievement by an Aboriginal community member.

Information regarding the NSW AECG and what they do. (Video: NSW AECG)

Both NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for Education, Prue Car and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, David Harris were in attendance for the event.

Minister Car said NSW public schools worked hard to enhance and elevate Aboriginal culture and identity through education.

"Today is a wonderful day as we celebrate academic excellence in our Aboriginal learners, leaders and educators," Ms Car said.

"I want to send a big congratulations to all the hardworking teachers, school leaders and students being honoured at the Nanga Mai Awards."

NSW Department of Education Secretary, Murat Dizdar said the Nanga Mai Awards recognised students, staff and community members demonstrating excellence across all areas of education, from academic achievement, performing arts and public speaking, through to sport and leadership.

"From talented young scholars, dancers and athletes to staff who work tirelessly for their schools and communities, I commend the leadership, creativity and excellence demonstrated by our 2023 Nanga Mai Award winners," Mr Dizdar said.

"These awards continue to show that strong community partnerships, dedicated staff and targeted, culturally appropriate programs are integral to the success and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in NSW public schools."

Following the ceremony, National Indigenous Times spoke with young Bundjalung man Ryan Wood from West Wallsend High School in Newcastle. Mr Wood was the joint recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Award with his fellow school captain, Ashlee Dawson.

West Wallsend High School students Ryan Wood and Ashlee Dawson were joint recipients of the Outstanding Leadership Award. (Image: supplied)

Mr Wood, who has just finished his HSC told National Indigenous Times the key to surviving the intense period of study and exams was to surround himself with people who are understanding of what he was going through.

"As much as people say, school is a good time to reflect back on, it can get stressful when you're doing your HSC," he said.

"So having the you know, those good support people around you, cheering you on, that sort of stuff is always good to have."

The driving force behind Mr Wood's application to his studies are his parents, who made sure he studied, and siblings, who he hopes to be a role model for in academic contexts.

Whilst Mr Wood is yet to travel overseas, he is highly inquisitive of other cultures which influenced his selection for undergraduate study.

Next year he will be undertaking a double degree, a Bachelor of Business Studies and a Bachelor of International Studies at the University of Technology Sydney.

Mr Wood's parents and family attended the award ceremony. He said amongst the pride, his Mum's eyes were a bit watery.

On receiving the award he said "It was quite a big honour" to be recognised as someone who is paving the way for mob in education.

The 18th annual Nanga Mai Awards were supported by Hicksons Lawyers, University of NSW, Teachers Health, Learning Links, TOMRA Cleanaway, Bendelta, Australian National Maritime Museum, Ethika Group, Holding Redlich, CQUniversity Australia.

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