Retrospective: NAIDOC Awards, Themes and Their Origin
This article contains the name and likeness of a deceased Aboriginal person.
“I remember in the bedroom you could hear the air conditioning.”
NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair John Paul Janke describes one of his most powerful moments from the annual awards night, which took place in 2019 in front of a room of 1,300 people.
“Thank you so much for watching me,” the late legendary actor David Gulpilil announced via a video link to the National Convention Center in Canberra.
“Never forget me. While I’m here, I will never forget you. I will still remember you, even though I’m gone forever, I will still remember.”
Mr. Gulpilil was speaking after being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and in his speech also came a big revelation.
“He couldn’t attend the awards because he was sick, his daughters attended the awards for him. For his speech he sent this video message announcing he was dying of cancer” , recalls Mr. Janke.
Look forward and look back
For Janke, NAIDOC is about looking forward and looking back.
In 2013, he joined the Committee, taking on the role of chairman about four years ago now.
But his connection with NAIDOC dates back to his teenage years.
“I would have gone there every year since I was 18, I think,” he said.
“We’ve always been involved in it, I remember going to the NAIDOC awards in Canberra with my parents. It was always a great event, we would dress up, go see the community.”
The early years
In the 1990s, Mr. Janke was working at ATSIC – the place that sparked his love for NAIDOC.
“There, I could see a real crossover in terms of self-determination and promoting Indigenous culture and NAIDOC,” he said.
“My job was basically to organize these NAIDOC awards. At that time, we would probably have a crowd of 600 to 800 people for the national awards ceremony.”
Taking a concept he loved, NAIDOC, Mr. Janke was tasked with making each year bigger and better than the last.
“There was a really good opportunity for us to build an emotional attachment to the awards… In 2000, it was huge,” he said.
“You move forward to today, the Ball has relied on all these early years to make this magnificent evening a showcase of Aboriginal achievements.
“You now have a Ball of around 1400-1500 people, sold out in 10 minutes.
“One of the things that I love about it is that, whatever our diversity in the community, the diversity of views and politics, we put that aside for one night and we let’s get together for a good night.”
This year, the theme for NAIDOC is Rise! Rise! To arrive! A wink “it’s time”.
“This year’s theme is really a summary of the themes of the last few years. We asked people to do a lot, to celebrate the language, to heal the country, to celebrate women and to recognize sovereignty and identity. This theme is, really, it’s time,” Mr. Janke said.
Themes have been around since NAIDOC’s inception and have had their own journey of transformation.
“At the time, the themes were about government programs, showing what the government was doing to support Indigenous communities – there was a whole thread of assimilation there,” Janke explained.
“In the ’70s it became all-black property, the themes started to become more militant, more rights-based.”
While each theme has its own power, for Mr Janke, Because Of Her We Can, the 2018 theme will be the one he feels most connected to.
“It was recognized that everyone in the black community had ‘her.’ Whether it’s your grandmother, your mother, your wife, your daughter, your aunts, your nieces. You had ‘her,'” he said.
“It paved the way for this theme, the world was questioning the treatment of women, it was at the end of the #MeToo movement and people were having honest conversations about women and the status we give to women and the things we don’t do for women.
“It was an opportunity for us in the black community to lead this dialogue.”
Mr Janke said that before 2018 many themes encompassed things that men could “see themselves” in. Because of her, we can was a turning point for NAIDOC.
“In a way, I almost think NAIDOC week was ‘broken’ because now everyone compares everything to Because Of Her We Can,” he laughed.
“I remember when we announced it in January, a tweet came from a young indigenous woman, who was sitting at a bus stop outside her university. She said she had just read the theme and was in tears thinking of her mother.
“People were sending me links to videos. BHP made videos where they interviewed some of their employees at their mine sites. They asked them what NAIDOC meant to them and some of them were bursting into tears because whether they were talking about their mother or their grandmother.
“It was everywhere.”
The power of this theme was evident at the 2018 awards, with Bunuba woman June Oscar AO being the 2018 NAIDOC Person of the Year.
“June Oscar’s speech was magnificent that evening. The winners basically have three minutes, June Oscar spoke for 40, but no one cared because that was the theme, that was that moment,” Mr Janke said.
“It needed a black woman to mark her place in that moment, and she did it and she did it with such honesty and passion and advocacy that people didn’t care.”
Alongside Mrs. Oscar, Alyawarre’s wife Pat Anderson AO received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“The whole year of this theme has been marked by the recognition of these two eminent and dedicated women,” he said.
“For me, June Oscar’s speech that night was a speech for the moment and the time. Pat Anderson’s speech was the speech for the generation, she basically stood up and said ‘it was about time’.
“It was a moment of deep breathing. A recognition that black women have been around forever, and it was time. »
The annual awards
A NAIDOC award is something many recipients and nominees consider one of their greatest accomplishments.
“That’s something that’s always struck me. The value people place on getting an NAIDOC award,” Janke said.
“In a way, it’s a reward from your people, it’s a recognition of your work and your accomplishments by your own people. We value this more than academic, bureaucratic or governmental recognition.
“There’s no hierarchy either, we have people from the grassroots community being celebrated alongside international sports stars, actors, artists, lawyers.”
The 2022 National NAIDOC Week Awards Ceremony will take place on Saturday, July 2 at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. It will be broadcast live on NITV at 7:00 p.m.