Secretary's Marrung Award winners

The awards recognise good practice in Aboriginal education and inclusion.

About the awards

The Department of Education is pleased to announce the winners of the Secretary’s Marrung Awards, held on 31 May 2023.

The Secretary’s Marrung Awards celebrate the unique knowledge and skills that Aboriginal staff and allies bring to the department, to create better educational outcomes for Aboriginal students. This may be in roles that focus on communications, policy, program delivery, student support, teaching, allied health, or leadership.


Positive Climate for Learning

This category has two winners and celebrates those who have created a positive climate for learning and development and where their services have demonstrated the highest levels of respect and inclusion. The result is Koorie children and learners of all ages feeling a greater sense of strength in their identity and culturally safe.

Winner: Clifton Hill Primary School - Ngulu-Nganjin

Ngulu-Nganjin was a theatrical performance involving 300 Clifton Hill Primary School students (Grade 4-6) collaborating with First Nations artists Glenn Shea, Nathan Bird and Fred Leone to create a positive and powerful school production incorporating Indigenous languages.

The production engaged students and the broader school community to learn and gain a deeper understanding of First Nations languages and to promote a positive narrative and learning experience for 4 Indigenous students at the school.

Teachers Kate Denborough, Roz Girvan and Sophie Gammon approached the families of First Nations students about the possibility of being involved in the production and through a lengthy consultation process, worked closely with each of them. Permission was sought and granted from communities and Elders to include the following languages in the script:

Woi-wurrung (with permission from Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and Mandy Nicholson)

Adnyamathanha (with permission from Terrence and Josephine Coulthard - Authors “Adnyamathanha - A Culture Guide and Language Book”

Winner: Phoenix P-12 Community College - “Actions Speak Louder Than Words”

The Phoenix P-12 Community College aligns strongly to the vision of ‘actions speak louder than words’ and encourages the voice and agency of First Nations students to how the school acknowledges and celebrates First Nations cultures.

Through their Koorie Student Forum, students generated ideas and realised a number of school-based projects empowering students to express themselves with a range of visual and digital arts projects around the school and engage the whole school community. The highly visible artworks create a daily First Nations footprint and a legacy.

One project was a Koorie Mural. Students were central to the concept, created the artwork and school staff assisted with placing it in a prominent location selected by the students.

Community Engagement

This category has two winners and celebrates efforts made to build community engagement in learning and development. It recognises services that have worked in partnership and collaboration with Koorie people to find innovative ways to improve outcomes in local communities.

Winner: Brooke Kogelman Project Manager Lilydale District and Yarra Valley Education Plan NEVR Outer East

Brooke is the Project Manager of the Collaborative Indigenous Strategy, a commitment from 6 secondary schools from the Lilydale District and Yarra Valley Education Plan which work to achieve the vision of Marrung so First Nations students ‘achieve their potential, succeed in life and feel strong in their cultural connection’ (Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan 2016-2026).

Winner: Crystal Bertoli Koorie Education Coordinator, Inner Gippsland

Her work is aligned with Marrung Aboriginal Education Plan. She has role-modelled mutually respectful Community Engagement.

Crystal is a founding member of the Inner Gippsland Marrung Implementation Group, a group made up of department leaders who carry the torch to further implement Marrung priorities across Inner Gippsland, which increases opportunities to generate awareness of Marrung and inclusive Koorie practices. Her work demonstrates long standing commitment and includes:

  • Leading the Inner Gippsland Area in implementing Community Understanding Safety Training for all education providers and within the Inner Gippsland corporate sector.
  • Working with schools to implement a Koorie curriculum, developing culturally relevant learning plans in alignment with both the VEYLDF and Victorian Curriculums
  • Encouraging schools to invite local Elders to connect with students.
  • Collaborate with the Early Childhood Inclusion Branch implement a Cultural Reflection Tool to improve the inclusive practice of early years services in Inner Gippsland

Along with the KESO team, review attendance data and together the team follows up and supports families in the community as required.

Professional Leadership

This category has two winners and celebrates the achievements of those who have built a culture of professional leadership where success for Koorie Victorians is their core business.

Winner: Mathew Lillyst Manager, Self Determination in Education Reform

Mat led development and delivery of professional learning to preservice teachers and their mentors through the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) in 2022. He designed and delivered a series of professional learning sessions that challenged teachers’ cultural stance and built their motivation to act.

The sessions equipped participants with the knowledge of how to teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, cultures and histories in a way that supports all students to see the value that comes from embracing diverse ways of doing and thinking. Mat delivered these day-long sessions in an engaging way, creating a safe space to address misconceptions, stereotypes, and biases. The curriculum links reflected all areas of the Victorian curriculum and were of relevance to any student.

Winner: Donna Wright Principal Bandiana Primary School

As a school leader and principal Donna is committed to school improvement, national unity and improving outcomes and opportunities for First Peoples in education.

Her work has been to strategically plan and implement schools’ policy so Koorie inclusion, Indigenous voice, aiming to deliver the best of state education. Her work leading quality education and sharing though professional development at a school, state and national level has been exemplary.

With the school KESO and leadership team, she has ensured the school develops a strategic and annual plan based on school and state data. Her team carefully monitors student achievement, so student-focused initiatives have the breadth and reach needed to improve student outcomes in wellbeing and achievement. The plan highlights programs to celebrate achievement and support children.

Donna leads the community RAP proposal and goal setting contributes to ongoing health of the school’s inclusive culture. Authentic partnerships in planning support self-determination. She is determined to improve the school’s staff capacity by engaging in professional development to ensure the school embraces Aboriginal inclusion.

Aboriginal Community Leadership

This category has two winners and recognises efforts made to foster improved knowledge, understanding and appreciation for Aboriginal histories, people, and cultures.

Winner: Nikki Penrith Aboriginal Community Support Officer, Reservoir East Primary School

Nikki Penrith’s is a Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara woman who has worked at Reservoir East Primary School as an Aboriginal Community Support Officer since 2021.

Her work has enhanced the school’s community connection and engagement and the support our teachers and support staff receive in developing cultural competency for the Indigenous community.

Nikki has demonstrated a deep commitment to fostering improved knowledge, understanding, and appreciation for Aboriginal histories, people, and cultures. She promotes this by engaging community in consultation and sourcing local community for professional development to staff on Indigenous perspectives in the curriculum.

Nikki’s dedication and passion for her work has had a significant impact on her community and beyond and has led to a more cultural safe and vibrant workplace.

Winner: Debbie Cottier Principal of Springvale Rise Primary School

Debbie is a highly experienced educational leader, who has been in the department for some 34 years. She invests time and energy into growing / sustaining the department’s Koorie workforce when possible.

She says she ‘always make a concerted effort to provide collegiate and professional support all Koorie educators she cross paths with; ensuring this support is founded on positive, authentic relationships, a sense of trust and a shared connection forged from being Koorie rather than based on roles and responsibilities within the department.

Debbie sees supporting / growing the workforce is a way that she can make a genuine difference ‘on the ground’, sometimes via a conversation with a Koorie colleague reminding them about their sense of moral purpose and why Mob need them out there doing the work they do, day in and day out.

Debbie played a leading role in the establishment of the inaugural AEU First Nations Executive whose core role is to provide support for the AEU First Nations Members (Encouraging, supporting, yarning with, a large number of Koorie members over a three-year period; whilst trying to keep the momentum going and the integrity of the conversations from meeting to meeting with different people often in the “virtual room”.)

Visit Marrung Strategy for more information.