Darling Harbour's International Convention Centre was glistened with red, purple, blue lights illuminating the venue.
The annual National NAIDOC awards— this year held in 'host city' Sydney —welcomed some of Australia's most recognisable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entertainers, sportspeople, academics and politicians, awarding this years' highest achievers in their chosen field.
As Russell Charles Taylor, a Kamilaroi man who has played pivotal leadership roles across many sectors, accepted his award for Male Elder of the Year he made the point, "If the recognition comes from your own mob, it's particularly special".
The event opened with a heartfelt Welcome to Country delivered by Gadigal Elder, Allen Madden and alongside, Yvonne Weldon, Chairperson of the Metro Land Council, acknowledged the land of the Eora Nation.
Arguably the most famous face to be awarded of the evening, was hip-hop artist and actor, Adam Briggs (known as 'Briggs') who picked up the Artist of the Year award. Known for his tongue-in-cheek comedy, Briggs accepted his award, joking the trophy's likeness to a dinner plate meant he could give to his mum as a gift.
Briggs also comically reflected on his award category saying, "We've been telling stories for 80,000 years, so I kinda had a head start". He went on to thank his role models and supporters, and offered emotional sentiments of his hometown, Shepparton, Victoria, which is not far from the site of the historical Cummeragunja walk-off.
'Teeth' were somewhat of a reoccurring feature throughout the evening, with young dental technical Folau Paul Talbot awarded Apprentice of the Year for his work in communities, helping put smiles on the faces of those who haven't seen their pearly whites in years. Then accepting her award for Female Elder of the Year, Aunty Lynette Dixon stumbled on the word "prestigious" and shyly laughed on the podium, "forgive me, I've got new teeth". A burst of laughter erupted from the audience.
With this years' NAIDOC theme, 'Because of Her, We Can', shining a light on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have left legacies in their communities and beyond, it was presumed by many that the two major awards; Person of the Year and the Lifetime Achievement Award, would go to women.
"Our voices are rising loud and clear."
Dr June Oscar, a Bunuba woman from Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley, was named the highly coveted 2018 NAIDOC Person of the Year, in recognition of her work championing the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially women and children, and her tireless work to preserve ancient languages.
Oscar accepted her award, recognising intergenerational care and the important strong family bonds. "Without question, this award is for my mother and my grandmother", she said. On stage, Oscar told the story of the plight and subsequent resilience of her matriarchs, including how her grandmother was faced with the Frontier Wars.
In delivering her acceptance speech, Ms June vowed to advocate for Indigenous women rights.
"I accept this award with the full responsibility of carrying your voices and I am committed to making what you say count," she said.
"Let me say I hear you. I hear your women's voice. You are here, you are not silent. You are not invisible. Our voices are rising loud and clear."
At one point in her speech, Dr Oscar asked the women in the room to stand.
"We must all be unshakeable in our resolve to be everything that we are and have been.
"We cannot bend for this world. Let the world bend for us.
She then urged the men to stand in the room, appealing to them to stand alongside women to fight for the advancement of Indigenous rights.
"Only together, shoulder to shoulder, will we raise the next generation into being," she said.
"There's still a lot of women and families tonight who are in desperate circumstances because of family violence"
The 2018 NAIDOC Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Patricia Anderson AO, a distinguished Alyawarre woman and passionate social justice advocate who has devoted her life to improving the health, welfare and education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Accepting her award, Anderson said the recognition of Aboriginal women was 'long overdue' lightheartedly stating, "y'know, many of us have taken shit all our lives".
Anderson made a powerful call to action to end family violence, where she opened up frankly about her own experiences as a "battered wife". "How I've got any bones left in my face —I don't know," she said.
"I want to honour and respect the challenges we face today ... This is wonderful 'Because of Her, We Can', but there's still a lot of women and families tonight who are in desperate circumstances because of family violence. So we've got to somehow rather, reconcile the two," she said.
She directed her words at men, saying, "we can't do this alone. We actually do need you and we love you. And you have to love us back."
To wrap up the evening, drag queen favourite, Miss Ellaneous stormed down the aisle dressed in an Aboriginal-themed Wonder Woman superhero outfit singing Tina Turner. She entertained the audience, making sure the annual message stick ritual was handled correctly, and the NAIDOC 2019 host city was named.
Next year, Canberra -Ngnunnawal Country- will welcome the NAIDOC flagship event.
List of 2018 NAIDOC Award winners
- Person of the Year: June Oscar
- Lifetime Achievement Award: Patricia Anderson
- Female Elder of the Year: Aunty Lynette Nixon
- Male Elder of the Year: Russell Taylor
- Apprentice of the Year: Dental technician Folau Paul Talbot
- Scholar of the Year: Professor Michelle Trudgett from UTS
- Artist of the Year: Hip Hop artist Briggs
- Sportsperson of the Year: Jack Peris
- Youth of the Year: Tamina Pitt
- with AAP & SBS News