2023 Western Australian of the Year Awards

Aboriginal Award Finalists

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The Aboriginal Award is presented in celebration of excellence in professional and/or personal achievements at a state, national or international level, contributing to the Western Australian community and recognition as an inspirational role model in the Aboriginal community.

Meet our 2023 Aboriginal Award finalists:

Des Headland

Des Headland is a true legend on and off the field. With a career spanning more than a decade in the AFL, he reached the pinnacle of his sport as an AFL Premiership Player with the Brisbane Lions. But away from the football field Des, a proud Nyoongar-Yamatji man, has become a passionate advocate for Aboriginal employment and representation.

Since retiring, Des has established a range of successful businesses that empower First Nations people. Two examples include Spartan First, a majority Indigenous-owned health and wellbeing business, and IronMerge, a People/Supplies and Contracting company. He sees opportunities for growth in both the health and mining industries, leading to job creation and increased social cohesion.

Des’ latest venture, Maarli Swan tours, is a family endeavour that educates others about the cultural significance and history of the Swan River and its connection to Indigenous culture.

He has also co-designed and delivered employment preparation programs to assist unemployed Aboriginal people in WA. Des’ passion for wellness drives his many projects, and he has been known to run meditation sessions for participants.

Des’ role as an ambassador to Madalah, a not-for-profit scholarship program, brings him the most satisfaction. The organisation provides scholarships for Indigenous students from remote areas to attend boarding schools and universities, creating the next generation of Aboriginal leaders.

Des is a role-model who is always giving back to the community. He is willing to challenge conventional ideas and come up with creative solutions to problems, making him a leader in the community.

Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker AM

Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker AM is a respected academic and researcher who focuses on Aboriginal wellbeing through education, sport and health. A former basketball coach and player, she advocates the benefits of sport and has designed an Indigenous uniform for the Perth Lynx. In addition to her academic achievements, Cheryl’s community contributions have been equally impressive. She founded the Koordoormitj Institute GrassRoots Basketball Program, which helps young people build friendships and confidence through teamwork. Cheryl’s hard work and determination are evident in her academic work, and she has a PhD exploring urban Aboriginal children’s self-identity and self-esteem in the school sporting setting. Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including the Order of Australia and West Australian Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards.

Cheryl is an important voice for Aboriginal people in sport and serves on the board of Basketball WA as its first Aboriginal representative. She is also a founding director of Koya Aboriginal Corporation and is the WA Aboriginal Representative for the National Co-Design Committee for the Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. She also serves on the boards of Healthway and Basketball WA.

Cheryl’s message to the young generation is to stay true to their roots, follow their dreams and refuse to accept the word ‘no.’ Her efforts have positively influenced the lives of many children and families, giving them wings to fly and a nest to return to. Her contributions to the academic world and her community have been invaluable, and hard work continues to inspire many.

Honourable Ken Wyatt AM

Honourable Ken Wyatt AM is a political trailblazer who has been an instrumental advocate for an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament. Ken’s long and distinguished career has involved a number of ‘firsts.’ He was the first Indigenous Australian elected to the House of Representatives, the first to serve as a government minister, the first appointed to Executive Council and the first appointed to Federal Cabinet. A descendant of the Noongar and Yamatji communities, Ken has witnessed firsthand the poor treatment of First Nation’s people, particularly through the experiences of his mother who was part of the stolen generation.

Ken held several Ministerial positions while in Federal Parliament, including Minister for Indigenous Australians, Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health. During his political career, Ken made several major reforms and laid the foundations for a referendum to provide a political voice for Aboriginal people prior to his retirement in 2022.

Ken has always taken a keen interest in institutional reform. He has instigated the Royal Commission into Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and responded to the Royal Commission into aged care with key industry changes to protect ageing Australians. In retirement, Ken has donated his research, reports, and submissions to the National Archive, protecting historically significant documents for Aboriginal people.

Ken is an inspiring leader with unmatched experience in understanding the issues faced by Indigenous Australians. He has engaged with thousands of communities during his career and advocated at the highest level to close the gap for Aboriginal people.


Major Supporters

Celebrate WA wish to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we meet on for all WA Day festivities. We wish to acknowledge and respect their continuing culture and the contribution they make to the life of this State. Paying our respects to Elders past, present, and emerging.

Award Sponsors

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