National Congress of Australia's First Peoples - Biographies



Dr. Kerry Arabena (Co-Chair) is a descendant from the Meriam people from the Torres Strait.

First trained as a social worker, Kerry was recently awarded a doctorate from the Fenner School at the Australian National University in Human Ecology. She has an extensive background in public health, administration, community development and research.

Professional appointments range from political agencies to health services and include one of the most remote Aboriginal Medical Services in Australia, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health.

Dr Arabena’s work has included coordinating population health strategies across northern Australia and contributions to Australia and the Asia Pacific region in cross-jurisdictional areas such as gender issues, social justice, human rights, violence, access and equity, service provision, harm minimisation and citizenship rights and responsibilities. She has also represented Australia in international forums on HIV/AIDS and climate change.

Positions held include Director of the Regional Governance Unit in the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination; Executive Director of Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT and Reproductive Healthcare Services in Canberra; Apunipima Cape York Health Council in Queensland; and Pintubi Homelands Health Service in the Northern Territory.

Dr. Arabena has also been a representative on a range of local, state and national councils and committees including chairing the International Advisory Committee for Sexual Health and Family Planning Australia, the National Indigenous Australians Sexual Health Committee and as the Chairperson of the ACT Healthpact Health Promotion Board.

Ms Josephine Bourne is a mainland Torres Strait Islander born in Townsville North Queensland.

Her Mother’s ancestry is from Mabuiag Island and the Murray Islands and her Father’s ancestry is from Mabuiag Island and Moa Island (Kubin).

Ms Bourne has made a significant contribution to many local, regional, state and national agencies through committees and working groups dealing with community capacity building, multi-media development and youth leadership.

Tertiary studies in communications, indigenous studies, community education and community development have led to positions with the Queensland Education Department in Townsville and in the philanthropic sector for the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) in Melbourne.

In her roles at the FYA, Josephine was responsible for key initiatives including managing the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program with 250 students across Australia and supporting the Foundation’s grants programs.

Ms Bourne has most recently been working with the Steering Committee for the National Congress and has also been a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and Philanthropy Partnership Project Steering Committee and the Melbourne Living and Learning Centre Steering Committee.

Professor Peter Buckskin is a Narungga man from the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. He is currently Dean and Head of School of the David Unaipon College of Indigenous Education and Research (DUCIER) within the Division of Education, Arts and Social
Sciences, University of South Australia.

As an educator and professional bureaucrat for more than 30 years, Professor Buckskin’s passion has been the pursuit of educational excellence for Aboriginal students. Professor Buckskin has worked as a school teacher in Western Australia and South Australia, Chair of the South Australian Aboriginal Education Consultative Committee, Ministerial Adviser, Superintendent of Schools, and a Senior Executive at both State and Federal levels. For over a decade Professor Buckskin worked as an officer in the Commonwealth's Senior Executive Service, where he occupied a number of strategic positions in the portfolios of Aboriginal Affairs, Employment, Education and Training.

In the 2001 Australia Day Honours, he was awarded the Commonwealth Public Service Medal (PSM) in recognition of his outstanding public service in pursuing equality in education for Australia's Indigenous peoples.

In 2006 he became a Member of the Australian College of Educators and an elected Fellow of the Academy in 2007 for his continuing contribution to education.

Professor Buckskin served one term as a Commissioner of the Australian Commission to UNESCO and continues as Chair of the National Indigenous Higher Education Network, Executive Member of the World Indigenous Higher Education Consortium, Co-Chair of the
South Australian Aboriginal Education and Training Consultative Body and Co-Chair Reconciliation South Australia.

Mr Ned David is a Torres Strait Islander linked to the Komet Tribe of Mer (Murray Island) through his mother and the Tudulaig of the Kulkalgal Nation (Central Islands of the Torres Strait) through his father.

Mr David has a comprehensive background working in education in the Torres Strait as well as a number of organisations focused on land and sea rights and regional autonomy.

Mr David has played a significant role in leading reform across a range of sectors including fisheries, native title, education, training and employment.

Currently the Director of the Yumi Education Support Services, he has also held positions in the Department of Education and Training as Manager of Strategic Initiatives and as a Manager at the Torres Strait Campus, Tropical North QLD Institute of TAFE.

He is also involved in many community organisations including current positions as: President of the Torres Strait Islanders Regional Education Council (TSIREC), member of the National Advisory Committee for the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, President of the Urapun Tubudalgal Land Trust, President of Magani Lagaugal Registered Native Title Body and Secretary of the Torres Strait Islanders Media Association.

Mr David has previously worked for the Department of Justice and the Attorney General, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Island Industries Board, Aboriginal Hostels Limited and the Island Coordinating Council.

Mr Sam Jeffries (Co-Chair) is a proud member of the Murrawari nation from north-west NSW and southern QLD and was born and raised in Brewarrina NSW.

Active in Indigenous Affairs for more than 25 years, Mr Jeffries has worked in the cotton, hotel and meat industries, in the public service and in a range of community organisations including Barriekneal Housing and the Community Development Employment Program in Lightning Ridge.

Over the last six years as the Chairperson of Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly in Western NSW he has been a strong advocate for Aboriginal self-determination, leadership, land rights, community planning and development and better health services.

Mr Jeffries has an extensive history of holding publicly elected positions and these include - Councillor on the Walgett Shire Council and five consecutive terms as an ATSIC Regional Councillor and three as Chairperson.

Other commitments include appointment to a range of national, state and local committees and bodies: Deputy Chair of the Indigenous Land Corporation, Chair of the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence, Chair National Aboriginal Sports Corporation, member of the NSW Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment Scheme, Western Catchment Management Authority of NSW.

Previous roles include Board Member of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office, Chair of the National Forum of ATSIC Regional Chairpersons and Chair Barwon Darling Alliance, an alliance between Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly and five Local Councils.

Professor Colleen Hayward is a senior Aboriginal woman of the Noongar nation in the south-west of Western Australia.

Currently the Head of Edith Cowan University’s Centre for Indigenous Australian Education and Research, Kurongkurl Katitjin, Professor Hayward has an impressive professional career for more than 30 years.

Starting her working life as a teacher, other positions previously held include Manager of the Kulunga Research Network at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, senior roles at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services agency and ATSIC, and as Deputy Chief
Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia.

Her work has included providing significant input to policies and programs on a wide range of issues, reflecting the needs of minority groups at community, state and national levels. She has an extensive background in a range of areas including health, education, training,
employment, housing, child protection and law and justice as well as significant experience in policy and management.

Professor Hayward’s long-standing work for and on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia is clearly demonstrated by a range of appointments and accolades.

These include appointment as an Associate Professor at Curtin University in Western Australia; selection for Postgraduate studies at the University of Cambridge; representative at the Australia 2020 Summit; award finalist for Outstanding Achievement in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health (2008) and 2008 National NAIDOC Aboriginal Person of the Year.

Most recently, Professor Hayward was inducted into the WA Department of Education Hall of Fame for Achievement in Aboriginal Education.

Mr Klynton Wanganeen is a descendant of the Narungga and Ngarrindjeri nations.

Mr Wanganeen has taken leave from Department of Further Education Employment Science and Technology (DFEEST) for his appointment as the first Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement in South Australia.

As a Commissioner, he serves as a voice for the Aboriginal community in Government and provides independent advice to the SA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation on Aboriginal matters. His role includes advocacy and engagement between Aboriginal people
and the broader community; Aboriginal people's access to government, non-government and private services; mentoring Aboriginal leaders and consulting with non-government organisations and peak Aboriginal bodies.

Mr Wanganeen has a long history as an advocate for Aboriginal affairs. He is currently Chair of the Narungga Nations Aboriginal Corporation and the SA Congress of Native Title Committee. Previously he has been a member of the National VET Indigenous Taskforce and elected as the South Australian Zone Commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and Chairman of the Patpa Warra Yunti and Regional Council.

Mr Wanganeen has also held a range of board appointments including Chairman of the South Australian Aboriginal Health Partnership and also held many positions during his professional career including State-wide Program Leader Aboriginal Education TAFE SA and General Manager of the Aboriginal Access Centre TAFE.

Ms Daphne Yarram is a Noongar woman, born at Gnowangerup on an Aboriginal mission in South West Western Australia.

Now living in Sale in Victoria, she has worked for the past 30 years within the Victorian Indigenous community in a range of professional positions including voluntary, community, government and private sectors.

Organisations that Ms Yarram has supported, helped establish or worked with include: the Victorian Indigenous Leadership Network, Sale Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation, Gippsland Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, Premiers Aboriginal Advisory Council, and the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum. Currently work includes establishing a Indigenous family Violence healing service for East Gippsland

Ms Yarram is passionate about raising the profile of rural communities and in her many roles has worked hard to ensure that Aboriginal individuals, families and communities are supported and encouraged to develop local solutions to respond to issues that impact on their
daily lives.

As a strong advocate, she supports and encourages Aboriginal women, children, youth and Elders to take on more active roles in their communities and continues to raise the profile of Aboriginal women.

Proud of her heritage, Daphne continues to maintain cultural practices, beliefs, traditions and values, which are reflected in her daily life.


Mr Tom Calma is an Aboriginal elder from the Kungarakan tribal group and a member of the Iwaidja tribal group whose traditional lands are south west of Darwin and on the Coburg Peninsula in Northern Territory, respectively. He has been involved in Indigenous affairs at
all levels for over 35 years, including the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner from 12 July 2004 to 31 January 2010.

Ms Megan Davis (Co-Chair) is Director of the Indigenous Law Centre and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, UNSW. Megan teaches and researches primarily in the field of Indigenous legal issues in Public Law and International Law. Megan is an Aboriginal woman from south-
east Queensland.

Mr Wesley Enoch is an acclaimed award winning theatre director originally from Stradbroke Island in Queensland – Nunukul Nuggi. Wesley works almost exclusively in Indigenous Theatre and focuses wholly on cultural and social engagement through story telling.
Wesley’s extensive experience in directing, writing, script development, acting and dancing spans two decades.

Ms Mary Graham is a Kombu-merri person on her father’s side and is also affiliated with the Waka Waka group through her mother, both groups in Queensland. She has lectured and tutored on subjects in Aboriginal history, politics, and comparative philosophy at the University of Queensland and at other educational institutions around the country.

Ms Nalwarri Ngurruwutthun is a senior Cultural Education Advisor and an advocator for bilingual education Nalwarri’s extensive experience in teaching, curriculum development, bilingual education and school management spans over three decades. Nalwarri’s clan is Munyuku and her homeland is Rurrangala in Arnhem Land. She is also a member of the Northern Territory Indigenous Education Council. Nalwarri carries on the vision of her elders continuing to deliver quality culturally appropriate bilingual education to young people in Yirrkala/ Laynhapuy Homelands School.

Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney [PhD] (Co-Chair) is a senior academic with more than 15 years of experience teaching in universities and schools. He is descendant of the Narungga, Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri Nations. He is well published and is internationally recognised for his work in Indigenous Education and Research methodologies. He has worked with Indigenous peoples on education across the Pacific in Taiwan, Canada and New Zealand.