At this year’s annual Barak Wonga Oration on Thursday 29 October, Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri activist and educator Dr Lois Peeler AM will focus on the importance of a deepening engagement with the narratives of often unknown Aboriginal heroes active in the Aboriginal struggle from colonisation to the present.
Dr Peeler’s, 'Enduring Legacies', will centre on the change-makers who, through their innate ability to instil on others hope for a better future, pave the way for future Aboriginal generations.
From model to role model: Lois Peeler inspires the next generation of Indigenous Australians.
Dr Peeler’s impetus is for refining this national inclination towards categorising Indigenous heroism and sacrifice as somehow different in quality and significance when compared to European achievements of the same period.
Swinburne’s Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Pascale Quester said the event highlights the university’s commitment and dedication to reconciliation; this event is to examine, to question, to motivate, and to inspire us all to drive for an enhanced future.
“The Barak Wonga Oration is an exceptionally special occasion for Swinburne, and I feel privileged to be able to attend for the first time this year,” Professor Questor said. “Although I’d much rather attend the Oration in person, I’m looking forward to sharing in this inspiring Oration with our local and international guests.”
This year’s event will be broadcast online due to coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Swinburne Annual Barak Wonga Oration is named after two significant Wurundjeri leaders – William Barak and Simon Wonga. It is organised by the Moondani Toombadool Centre, which is responsible for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander matters at Swinburne.
Professor Andrew Gunstone, Executive Director of the Moondani Toombadool Centre, said the Swinburne Annual Barak Wonga Oration is a key element of Swinburne’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), and aims to increase understandings in the wider community regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.
Find out more and register for this free event.
About Dr Lois Peeler AM
Dr Peeler is the Executive Director and Principal of Australia's only Aboriginal girls' boarding school, Worawa Aboriginal College. During the course of her life, Dr Peeler has had a plethora of professional experiences, firstly as a singer and model, and later as an educator and academic who has held many senior positions in the community and public sectors, including Assistant Director of the Aborigines Advancement League, Acting Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and Chairperson of the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
Born in Shepparton, Victoria, Dr Peeler hails from the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserve of which has a rich history of strong women.
“The family clans from Cummeragunja were very strong and everyone worked together to bring about improvements,” said Dr Peeler. “I owe my career to my family and their experiences.”
Dr Peeler’s singing career began as one of the original members of The Sapphires, of whose story was brought to light by Tony Briggs’ 2012 movie of the same name. Tony, who is also Dr Peeler’s nephew, unveiled his Aunt’s unbelievable lived experience at the Vietnam war in 1968. The Sapphires, after being discovered by a talent scout, were tasked with touring Vietnam War to keep the Australian soldiers entertained.
“When we talk about it now, we think, gee, we were stupid!” Dr Peeler laughed. “We didn’t take in the enormity of it all, going into a war zone.”
Laurel and Lois, two original Sapphires. Photo supplied.
Aside from being a Sapphire, Dr Peeler was also the first Aboriginal model and television presenter. Upon returning from the war she stepped into advocating for Indigenous Australians in the education space, which led to her work at Worawa Aboriginal College.
“Worawa was founded by my sister Hyllus Maris based on her lived experience. She saw the need for a holistic education model for our Aboriginal children,” said Dr Peeler.
Worawa Aboriginal College is an independent school that incorporates Aboriginal teachings and culture into its curriculum. “One of the things we are able to focus on in this school is identity, ensuring young people having pride in who they are and being knowledgeable about their ancestry, and that underpins everything,” said Dr Peeler.
In June 2014, Dr Peeler was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia. The award was made for her ‘significant service to the Indigenous community as an educator, advocate and role model’.
Dr Peeler, as well as many other Aboriginal heroes, continue the fight to achieve equal rights, education, and self-determination for future generations, as has been the goal of many generations before them.
“It’s taken us this long to get where we are today, and I am hopeful that we will be able to continue to work towards self-determination.”