Nova Peris OAM

Nova Peris was the first Aboriginal person to win an Olympic gold medal.

Honour Roll

Nova Peris was born in the Northern Territory on 25 February 1971 and raised in Darwin. Her father's family came from the Muran clan, traditional owners of Kakadu and Arnhem land. Her mother's family originally came from the Moola Bulla people in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, however their plight is one of two generations of stolen children. Her grandmother was taken when very young to be a servant in a white family. Her mother was taken to Melville Island off Australia's north coast and grew up in a mission there.

Her mother taught her that 'you never get nothing for nothing, and if you want something, get off your bum and have a go'. Her stepfather, who came into their lives when she was ten or eleven years old, was a policeman and he taught her to be disciplined in her endeavours and to not steer away from challenges.

Nova was a gifted young athlete but gave up athletics when she made the national schoolgirl hockey team as a thirteen year old. Nova first made the Australian Women's Hockey Team, the Hockeyroos, in 1992. By that time she already had a young daughter, Jessica. She remained in this highly successful team until 1996 when they won the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Nova was the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person to win an Olympic gold medal and also the first Northern Territory athlete.

Following this she decided to put down her hockey stick and return to track and field, her first love. She trained hard and won the Commonwealth Gold medal in the 200 metre sprint and in the 4x100 metre relay. Her proudest moment was being invited to run the first leg of the Olympic torch relay for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Australia's Governor-General, Sir William Deane, handed the torch to one of seven traditional land owners present at the ceremony at Uluru and they passed it from one to the next until it reached Nova who ran barefoot out of respect for the land. She ran the one mile leg with her daughter by her side. While she competed admirably in the Games, she did not make the 400 metre final and did not win a medal in the 4x400 metre relay.

Nova is also a self-trained artist and is achieving some recognition for her work in that field. She was the 1997 Young Australian of the Year. She also was involved as a Republican delegate for the Constitutional Convention.