NAIDOC Week tribute to an ‘unsung hero’

Published 06 July 2010

janellekerrieanneA student at the University of New England, speaking at the University’s NAIDOC Week ceremony yesterday, publicly celebrated the achievements of her grandmother, Vilma Ryan.

The Oorala Aboriginal Centre at UNE organises the flag-raising ceremony every year as part of Armidale’s NAIDOC Week celebrations involving the local Aboriginal community.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme focuses on “unsung heroes”. The student, Kerrie-Anne Maunder, outlined the work of Mrs Ryan – her “unsung hero” – as a political activist, community worker, lecturer, and campaigner on a wide range of Aboriginal issues including land rights, social equity, and the education and welfare of children.

“Throughout her life she has counselled and helped many people in need,” Ms Maunder said, “including people in jails, foster children who were in distress, and families who were in severe poverty – Indigenous and non-Indigenous. She has touched so many people’s lives – and she’s still around to guide us today.” Mrs Ryan, now 71 years old, has worked – and continues to live – in Sydney.

Ms Maunder, referred to the NAIDOC Week theme – “Unsung heroes: closing the gap by leading their way”, in saying: “My grandmother has always fought to close the gap on black and white issues, and has always pushed for reconciliation.”

“I stand here today as a student of primary school teaching at the University of New England,” she said. “I hope to follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, and I hope I can help to keep closing the gap for the generations to come.”

“We have much to celebrate,” said the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Jim Barber, speaking on behalf of the University at yesterday’s ceremony. Those reasons for celebration, he said, included “the social and spiritual richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society (the bonds with one another and with all living things), the beauty and power of their material culture, and their contributions to Australia in war and peace”.

“The land is full of ‘unsung heroes’,” Professor Barber said, “and we celebrate them today and throughout NAIDOC Week.”

Ms Lyn Walford, representing the local Aboriginal community, spoke about the highly successful, community-based Aboriginal Rugby League team based in Armidale – the Narwan Eels – as “unsung heroes”. She invited those at the ceremony to view an exhibition of photographs and memorabilia of the “Eels” on display in the Oorala Aboriginal Centre while continuing their NAIDOC Week celebration over morning tea.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here shows Kerrie-Anne Maunder (right) with her mother Janelle Maunder at yesterday’s ceremony. Clicking on this image reveals a photograph of (from left) the Acting Director of the Oorala Aboriginal Centre, Michael Brogan, Kerrie-Anne Maunder, Professor Jim Barber, and Lyn Walford.