2014 Shirley Ann Williams Award winner announced

Thursday, 6 March 2014
PJ and Teletha Williams, Grace Koch, AIATSIS Deputy Principal Michelle  Patterson and AIATSIS Council member Neva Collings.
Left to Right. PJ and Teletha Williams, Grace Koch, AIATSIS Deputy Principal Michelle Patterson and AIATSIS Council member Neva Collings.

Staff and invited guests gathered at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies on Thursday 6 March, to mark International Women’s Day and celebrate the announcement of the 2014 Shirley Ann Williams award winner – Grace Koch. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day was Inspiring Change. AIATSIS Council member and environmental lawyer Ms. Neva Collings spoke passionately about her own experiences of women inspiring change.

“In senior school another Aboriginal girl and I were inspired by a geography teacher. That teacher took it upon herself to mentor us and pulled us up to the front of the class room,” Ms. Collings said. “With her encouragement I became a youth advocate in the local community for recycling and awareness of the hole in the ozone layer. Environmental issues really grabbed my attention – I didn’t want the world to burn up! International Women’s Day recognises women’s struggles to reach this point, but more importantly celebrates our achievements and our potential. Today we see more women in boardrooms, more women at all levels of politics, and greater equity in legislative rights, but we still have a long way to go.”

The annual award, named after Shirley Ann Williams, a highly respected Aboriginal woman in Queanbeyan and Canberra, as well as a long serving AIATSIS employee, is presented to a female AIATSIS staff member for outstanding work and contribution in the Institute. This year’s winner, Grace Koch, is AIATSIS's Native Title Research and Access Officer. She has a background in musicology, education and media archiving and has published both nationally and internationally on topics relating to those fields. Grace came to AIATSIS in 1975 and said she has worked in most sections of the Institute. “It was a great privilege to work on five land claims and to appreciate the deep and complex culture of the Aboriginal people of Central Australia,” Grace said.

“I was honored to be presented the award by one of the local area’s traditional owners. I’d also like to pay tribute to the Kaytetye women from Barrow Creek, Northern Territory, who shared their songs and personal histories with me, to give me a better understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.” When Grace and her husband came to Australia from the USA, they had expected to stay for two years, but she is still here nearly 40 years later. “It’s been an honour to work at the Institute, and I value the connections and the friendships I’ve made,” said Grace.

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Last reviewed: 17 Mar 2015