Bunuba woman, Dr June Oscar OAM, is the recipient of the Person of The Year Award at the 2018 National NAIDOC Awards. The award recognises June’s work as fearless champion for the rights of the Bunuba people and as a courageous Aboriginal leader.
Currently the first woman to hold the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, June has lead a life of dedication and fearlessness, with an endless list of achievements that have made her a household name across Australia. Wendy McCarthy AO said, “She is a role model of integrity and determination to all Australians and indeed to many in the world”.
A political awakening
June grew up at Bundaral Ngarri (the Fitzroy River) in the Central Kimberley region of WA. It was later, working in Derby for the WA Aboriginal Legal service as a young receptionist, that she had, what she calls, her “political awakening”. Upon seeing the affidavits that were being prepared for the courts with the statements of Aboriginal stockmen who had been treated in a racist way, June told NITV that it was one of her unforgettable experiences of “Coming to terms with the injustices as a young person and seeing that Aboriginal people can seek out ways of addressing that.”
“Following this was my political awakening to justice and legal recourse and the fact that we can do something about this.”
What has followed for June is a life dedicated to seeking justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the areas of human rights, Aboriginal justice and especially the prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in her local community.
In regards to the later, former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said, “June is truly brave, tackling some of the most complex and sensitive issues affecting Aboriginal Australians without regard for the impact on her own life.”
Because of her, we can
June descends from a line of strong, Bunuba women. In particular, she said that her mother describes her grandmother as “A very strong, knowledgeable, fearless woman”.
“She was someone that when I think of myself sometimes I reflect on ‘Where do I get my drive and courage and commitment from?’ And I think I get it from my grandmother,” says June.
The legacy of the these women is what June is most grateful for, saying “We must remember that when we, as Aboriginal women, step into roles of responsibility, whether it’s in our families, communities or an organisation, that we stand on the strong shoulders of the strong women who have gone before us.”
It is this inspiration that June now strives to continue for the coming generations, with the aim for all Indigenous women and girls to have strength, pride and empowerment.
This is the theme that shines most prominently through her work, with June being responsible for groundbreaking initiatives such as the Wiyi Yani Thangani (Women’s Voices), which builds on the landmark Women’s Business: report of the Aboriginal Women’s taskforce, paving the way for a new and sustained relationship between Indigenous women and girls and the Australian Government.
“I want to be that pathfinder and set the path, set the trail, for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women,” she told NITV.
“Because if it is about us, you have to do it with us.”
“We have a right to be part of the discussion and the decision-making around matters that affect us.”
In terms of advice for young Aboriginal women, June offered up 3 gems: “Be respectful. Speak Your Truth. Don’t compromise who you are.”
The National NAIDOC Awards 2018 broadcasts live on NITV (Ch. 34), Friday 13 July at 7.30pm and will be available On Demand after broadcast.
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