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Education Training, Indigenous

Education excellence honour for local students

NSW Department of Education 3 mins read

Ashlee Dawson and Ryan Wood from West Wallsend High School in Newcastle have been recognised for their outstanding contribution to Aboriginal education at the 18th annual Nanga Mai Awards.

Ashlee and Ryan are among 13 academically successful students, confident public speakers, talented performing artists and outstanding sportspeople to win an award this year. They join 12 dedicated teachers, community leaders and schools recognised at the award ceremony at the International Convention and Exhibition Centre at Darling Harbour on Monday 27 November.

Ashlee and Ryan are joint recipients of the Outstanding Student Leadership Award and delivered the 2023 keynote student address at the awards.

Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Prue Car said NSW public schools worked to enhance and elevate Aboriginal culture and identity through education.

“Today is a wonderful day as we celebrate academic excellence in our Aboriginal learners, leaders and educators,” Ms Car said.

“I want to send a big congratulations to all the hardworking teachers, school leaders and students being honoured at the Nanga Mai Awards.”

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said the Nanga Mai Awards recognised students, staff and community members demonstrating excellence across all areas of education, from academic achievement, performing arts and public speaking, through to sport and leadership.

He said there had been an outstanding number of nominations for the 2023 awards.

“From talented young scholars, dancers and athletes to staff who work tirelessly for their schools and communities, I commend the leadership, creativity and excellence demonstrated by our 2023 Nanga Mai Award winners,” Mr Dizdar said.

“These awards continue to show that strong community partnerships, dedicated staff and targeted, culturally appropriate programs are integral to the success and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in NSW public schools.”

The 18th annual Nanga Mai Awards are supported by: Hicksons Lawyers, University of NSW, Teachers Health, Learning Links, TOMRA Cleanaway, Bendelta, Australian National Maritime Museum, Ethika Group, Holding Redlich, CQUniversity Australia.

Bios - Ashlee Dawson and Ryan Wood:

  • Ashlee Dawson is a proud Kamilaroi woman and an inspiring driving force to a culturally inclusive landscape at West Wallsend High School. Her sense of integrity and qualities of kindness and care have given her a powerful voice and agency as a school leader. This has been amplified in her role as 2023 School Captain and founding Junior AECG Co­President, with Ryan, where she used her leadership platform to collaborate alongside staff, students, and community stakeholders to benefit students and the school, creating meaningful and impactful change.
  • Ryan Wood is an exceptional young Bunjalung man who has helped drive the cultural landscape at West Wallsend High. Ryan was also 2023 School Captain and proudly embraces his Aboriginal culture. He is a passionate and inspiring advocate for his peers and community. A key achievement was his presentation at the Term 2 Staff Development Day with Ashlee. Together, they independently planned, developed, and delivered a highly engaging session to more than 100 staff, which provided a powerful and informed perspective on Aboriginal culture and identity.

Other award recipients from the Newcastle and Hunter region:

Tygah Green – Year 6, Kotara South Public School – Outstanding Student Leadership Award

  • Tygah has a profound connection to her culture and unwavering commitment to fostering Aboriginal heritage. Her dedication to promoting Aboriginal culture has significantly enriched her school community. Tygah's efforts have made Aboriginal culture more visible and accessible to her teachers and peers, creating a more inclusive and diverse learning environment. Her passion for culture is infectious and has sparked interest and understanding among those around her. Tygah filled the role of  of school Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Minister during its inaugural year and exemplified exceptional leadership. Tygah’s leadership is underpinned by a strong sense of integrity and pride, which resonates in every facet of her engagement within the school community.

Kim Witt – Principal, Toronto Public School – Outstanding Leadership in Aboriginal Education Award

  • Kim’s passion towards reconciliation has had a profound impact on Toronto Public School. She thinks creatively about new ways to nurture genuine partnerships, build cultural competence, and open pathways towards reconciliation. Kim led the development of the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), making Toronto Public the first school with a RAP in western Lake Macquarie. Kim is responsive to community voice and has transformed the school’s physical environment, promoting a culturally safe space. Her leadership extends to the Toronto Learning Community, advocating for the critical role that schools play in shaping Australia's journey towards reconciliation. She has worked with the school's Aboriginal Education Team, AECG, Elders and Land Council to initiate a yearly Reconciliation Walk, with more than 1500 students across four preschools, seven primary schools and two high schools participating. Kim demonstrates a genuine commitment to improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students and contributing to a more just, inclusive and equitable future.

*Information on the 2023 award recipients is included in the attached booklet. Interviews and photographs are available on request.


Contact details:

Luke Horton | 0436 950 946 | mediaunit@det.nsw.edu.au

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