John ‘Sandy’ Atkinson, Chairperson (Bangerang)
John ‘Sandy’ Atkinson is a Bangerang Elder born at Cummeragunja Mission. An influential figure in Aboriginal affairs and an important custodian of Aboriginal culture, Sandy’s achievements are vast, including: founder of the Shepparton Keeping Place; founder of the Rhumbalara Medical Co-Operative; working for Aboriginal Affairs; Chairman of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Arts Board of Australia Council; vice chairperson of the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages and Culture (FATSILC) and Commissioner for the Aboriginal Development Commission. Sandy has been a central part of the Koorie Heritage Trust since its beginning and also maintains a long and vital link to Museum Victoria, most recently contributing to the First Peoples exhibition as a Yulendj member. A talented musician, Sandy taught himself to play the pedal steel guitar in his youth, making him one of the first Aboriginal people to master the instrument. In 1983, Sandy was made a Member of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his service to Aboriginal arts and in 2012 was inducted into the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll.
“Language is the first thing in our culture that can become lost. We should not let it happen.”
Dr Doris Paton, Vice-Chairperson (Gunnai & Monaro Ngarigo)
Dr Doris Paton is a Gunnai, Monaro Ngarigo woman with an extensive academic background in education and training, completing a PhD in Philosophy (Education) at RMIT in 2009. Doris and her family live and work in Gippsland where Doris speaks language from both Gunnai and Monaro Ngarigo and has been teaching language in context within the community to children and adults for over 18 years. A role model for the Koorie Community, Doris has initiated and facilitated numerous educational projects promoting and teaching language, developed curriculum and assessment frameworks for the VCE accredited subject Indigenous Languages of Victoria: Revival and Reclamation, served on a wide variety of committees, developed educational resources and publications, established the successful Koorie focused New Apprenticeship Access Program and much more. Doris is recognised for her ongoing contributions, dedication and achievements in preserving Aboriginal Languages and cultural practices with several awards including the 2006 Wurreker Award for ‘Community Based Employee’ and in 2010 was selected by Parks Victoria for the ‘Regional Achiever Award’.
“Our family is very strong culturally and language is the framework for that culture. I think the value in reviving languages isn’t just for now, it’s for the generations to come.”
Vicki Couzens, Treasurer (Keerray Woorroong)
Vicki Couzens is a prominent artist of Gunditjmara, Keerray Woorroong who works in language, arts and cultural revival. Vicki has held positions on various boards and committees for over 35 years and has been instrumental in the revival of making possum skin cloaks. Vicki worked as a curator and language advisor for Museum Victoria in the development of the award winning First Peoples exhibition, has served as a Board Member for the Koorie Heritage Trust and was a Founding Member and Chair of Banmirra Arts Inc, where Vicki is now employed to co-ordinate a possum skin cloak ceremonial gathering in 2016, with over 60 communities from South-Eastern Australia.
“I have been actively involved in language work since 1999 when I went home to Gunditjmara country. Remembering, reclaiming, reviving and regenerating language & culture through arts practices and healing is my passion.”
Loraine Padgham, Director (Taungurung)
Born in Wangaratta, Loraine descends from the Nira Illum Balug clan of the Taungurung people from central Victoria. Since formally withdrawing from a satisfying teaching career in TAFE and more recently as Executive Officer at the Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies Monash University, Loraine has been involved in numerous educational and community activities. After completing qualifications in Cultural Heritage Management at La Trobe University she has been actively engaged in archaeological research and evaluation. In 2013 she formed a small genealogical/cultural research group which included family members, professional historians and a linguist to research the Nira Illum Balug. In addition to genealogical/cultural research, Loraine is enthusiastically engaged on various committees; Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Committee, Traditional Owners and Elders Reference Group Melbourne University, Reference Group for Aboriginal Service in WW1 and the Dolodanin-dat Animation Project Group who work in conjunction with Monash University to preserve Taungurung creation stories in language and through new technologies. Loraine has undertaken numerous language training programs and has developed a strong commitment to working towards the reclamation of the Taungurung language and is currently enrolled in the Diploma of Indigenous Language Work at Charles Darwin University.
Loraine believes that “Language is the skeleton which supports the body of knowledge, spirituality and culture and for conservation of the whole, we must strengthen the skeleton".
Brendan Kennedy, Director (Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi & Mutti Mutti)
Brendan Kennedy was born at Robinvale on Tati Tati Country and is a descendant of the Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi and Mutti Mutti tribal lands and language groups. Brendan is a member of the First Peoples Yulendj Group who collaborated with Museum Victoria to produce the award winning First Peoples exhibition; has previously served on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee; is a Tati Tati delegate for Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and is the Director of the Tati Tati Aboriginal Corporation. Brendan is an artist who specialises in painting and creating cultural and ceremonial objects.
“I have a passion for my past, my peoples and my ancestral history. Language is imbedded within the landscape and it’s not fair that our language doesn’t receive the respect and recognition it deserves. Our people have been speaking our language on our country since time began. Our people need our language. Our language shouldn’t stop because other people are here on our country.
I’m only new [as a Board Member with VACL], but I’ve got a responsibility to make sure our kids and our grandkids have access to our language. All the answers we are looking for are in our language.”
Vince Kirby, Director (Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi, Mutti Mutti, Latji Latji)
Vince is a proud Tati Tati, Wadi Wadi, Mutti Mutti, Latji Latji man living on Wadi Wadi country. Vince represents the Yita Yita Nation (his father's people) as a delegate for the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, helping to protect and care for the waterways. Vince is active in the revival of languages in north west Victoria where he strongly supports the teaching of language to the next generations.
"Languages connect us with our land. I would like all Aboriginal languages to be taught everywhere, all over Australia. I would like to see all Victorian languages strong, we all have the same interest and same ideas about where we hope it will go. We are working together for a common goal with all tribes and their languages."
Joel Wright, Director (Gunditjmara)
A Gunditjmara man from south western Victoria, Mr Wright has worked predominately in Aboriginal Affairs for over 35 years. In 2000, he was appointed as the first Executive Officer for the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages (VACL), where he established the digital infrastructure required for Aboriginal linguistic research and lobbied Victorian state authorities for the development of formally accredited curriculum in Aboriginal Language studies for schools. Mr Wright is currently the co-ordinator of the Laka Gunditj Language Program which services Aboriginal language groups in south west Victoria. He has recently launched six bilingual interactive apps of Gunditjmara Creation Stories, is currently delivering teacher training in Aboriginal Language studies in two council regions and has established broad community support for reinstating Aboriginal names of significant places in the region. A long standing member of VACL, Mr Wright was elected as a director to the VACL Board late last year (2015).
"I believe that language creates culture, by describing the unique beliefs, knowledges and practices of the world's distinct peoples. Language preserves cultural traditions and drives cultural change. Without language, culture could not exist."