Community celebrate inaugural NAIDOC Ball

Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation has hosted its inaugural NAIDOC Ball, celebrating the history, culture and achievements of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The ball was held on Saturday evening, July 6, at the Esperance Civic Centre and saw more than 120 people attend.

The evening began with a Welcome to Country before one minute's silence.

Corporation chairperson Gail Reynolds-Adamson presented this year's NAIDOC Awards across five categories, including Lifetime Achievement, Male and Female Elder of the Year, Caring for Country and Community Person of the Year.

Elder Veronica Williams-Bennell received the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognising the work she has done for Aboriginal affairs over the last 50 years.

Mrs Williams-Bennell was the first Aboriginal person to work at the Esperance Hospital during the late 1950s, where she lobbied for better housing and services for her peoples.

In 1975, she founded the Bay of Isles Aboriginal Corporation, where she fought for the rights of her people who were segregated due to past government acts.

Now, Mrs Williams-Bennell is a member of Tjaltjraak's Circle of the Elders committee.

In accepting the award, Mrs Williams-Bennell said it was pleasing to know that her work over the years had been appreciated.

The Caring for Country award was presented to Doc Reynolds for his involvement in the community and, more recently, his role as Senior cultural adviser for the Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation.

The Community Person of the Year was a draw, awarded to both Jennell Reynolds and Anna Bonney.

Ms Bonney was recognised for her support for and significant contribution to the Girls Academy and Esperance Community Arts, advocating for indigenous students and their experiences and embedding Aboriginal culture in Esperance High Schools.

Ms Reynolds was chosen for her work as a senior ranger with Tjaltjraak, her unwavering commitment to caring to country and her involvement in a number of Esperance Community Arts projects.

"Obviously, this is very humbling," Ms Reynolds said.

"Everything that I do I do for my community. I love Esperance."

Annie Dabb was named Female Elder of the Year, having spent countless hours mentoring and leading Tjaltjraak rangers, sharing knowledge of language and being influential in schools across Esperance, passing down language and tradition to younger generations.

"My passion is teaching young people about culture and language," Ms Dabb said.

"Put me in the bush and I am at home. That is what I want to instil in our younger generation."

Sonny Graham was named Male Elder of the Year, acknowledging his tireless efforts in helping the Aboriginal community and teaching school students about culture and language.

Mr Graham also served as a pastor, helping countless families with counselling and holding funerals.

In closing, Esperance Tjaltjraak Native Title Aboriginal Corporation chief executive officer Peter Bednall extended thanks to the awards committee, including Meredith Schilling, Jo Aberle, Jane Mulcock and Robyn Cail, as well as the event's organisers.