South Coast Elder Aunty Gail Wallace has been recognised by the University of Wollongong for her long and dedicated career advocating for Aboriginal people.
On Wednesday, November 6 at spring graduation she was given an Honorary Doctorate for her contribution to social justice.
Aunty Gail was the first Aboriginal woman to study law at UOW and has a breathtaking list of achievements. She hoped she could encourage younger generations to pursue their education and embrace their heritage.
"My main aim in life is to encourage future generations to gain a really good education and become culturally competent in both worlds, be proud of their heritage," Aunty Gail said.
"The younger generation, they're going to change the world. They're more caring, they're more aware of what is going on in the world - I'm just so impressed with them."
During the graduation ceremony, Aunty Gail spoke about growing up on a mission at Orient Point, the racism her community experienced, the positive impact of Gough Whitlam's policies, her education at law school and her advocacy and work in the community.
Her community work has included working for several government departments, working with the Attorney-General's Department as an executive officer of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council before transferring to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. She has also been key to the success of Waminda, the South Coast Women's Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation, and is currently chairperson of the board.
But out of all of her achievements, the standout moment for Aunty Gail was her work in establishing Circle Sentencing, a world-first court which brings together indigenous offenders and their victim(s) and allows Elders to participate in their sentencing.
"It made me optimistic about the future because it was a great move towards finding some sort of justice for Aboriginal people. That was my greatest achievement," she said.
"We won both state and federal justice awards for the pilot program. Because it was successful it was expanded to other court jurisdictions around NSW."
Despite all of her achievements, Aunty Gail was humble about receiving the Honorary Doctorate.
"I got an email from the university offering me an Honorary Doctorate... and I got the surprise of my life," she said.
"I feel really honoured and so proud of what I've achieved even though it was a difficult journey.
"There are so many people I feel are more deserving... but it was good to be recognised."