Aunty Gail Wallace

Honorary Doctor of Laws

Citation delivered by Professor Paul Chandler Pro Vice-Chancellor (Inclusion & Outreach) University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Gail Wallace as a Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) on 6 November 2019.

Deputy Chancellor, I present Gail Wallace.

Aunty Gail is a woman of great courage and determination and a leading force behind many initiatives in support of Aboriginal people in the Shoalhaven and the South Coast regions of NSW. Her humanity, wisdom and leadership within the Aboriginal community has been to the benefit of so many and today the University of Wollongong is honoured to celebrate Aunty Gail’s many outstanding achievements and contributions.

There are many firsts in life, but few people can claim ground-breaking firsts that lay foundations for generations to come. In this regard, Aunty Gail is in a class of her own.  In the early 1980’s she was the first Aboriginal woman to work with a Federal member for Parliament, and in the 1990’s she was the first in her family to attend university. In 1995 Aunty Gail became the first Aboriginal woman to graduate law at the University of Wollongong. She also played an instrumental role in the Circle Sentencing Programme which was piloted in Nowra in 2002.

Born on a South Coast Aboriginal reserve, one of nine children, Aunty Gail experienced first-hand the true value of belonging to and being nurtured by an Indigenous community. She used this life experience in her pursuit of effecting change and making improvements to the justice system and making valuable and valued contributions to improving health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal people. Aunty Gail’s tireless efforts to educate, break down communication barriers linked to language, culture and historic experience, and influence policy makers has ensured Aboriginal people receive justice; and her unrelenting drive and approach to facilitating change has built positive relationships between Aboriginal communities and the Courts.

Working in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions NSW, Aunty Gail quickly realised that communication barriers prevented Indigenous people from receiving justice within the criminal justice system. She went on to train Crown Prosecutors in Aboriginal Cultural practices and protocols to break down communication barriers, which ultimately improved their effectiveness as Magistrates. This initiative is one which Aunty Gail, quite rightly, sees as one of her major life achievements. Following this, she worked on a pilot project that would garner state and national recognition, the Circle Sentencing Court program. This revolutionary program saw the introduction of Elders into the court sentencing process of Aboriginal offenders. Working with the Elders, the community, court officials, victims and offenders, Aunty Gail brought decades of lived experience, along with the ability to translate complex legislation and laws, to provide the elders, offenders and victims with the necessary information to make informed decisions. Aunty Gail was the essential conduit between the justice system and the community, and her contributions were duly acknowledged; in 2005 when she received the Australian Crime and Violence Prevention award; and in 2009, with the Aboriginal Justice Award bestowed by the NSW Department of Justice.

Aunty Gail has also been a driving force in ensuring Aboriginal women are encouraged and supported to succeed in life, and is a role model for education in the vocational education and university sectors. In a lifetime filled with many major achievements, Aunty Gail cites being the first Aboriginal woman to graduate in Law at University of Wollongong, and the pride of her family and community, to be one of her most significant. She acknowledges that her successes have not been achieved single-handed, but with the guidance and support of valued mentors such as Magistrates Doug Dick and Gabrielle Fleming, Judge Graeme Henson and Ms Faye Worner; educators such as the late Professor Goldring and Professor David Farrier, and Aboriginal Elders, Aunty Belle McCloud, Aunty Nola Roberts, Aunty Ethel Little and Aunty Jean Wellington, all of whom have inspired her, given her strength, encouraged her to succeed and give back to the community.

And Aunty Gail continues her tireless efforts to serve the community. She has presented a number of guest lectures in the disciplines of law and social work to University of Wollongong students. She also works in partnership with the Aboriginal Health Team at the Australian Health Service Research Institute at UOW, and provides expert advice to design curriculum courses for medical students. More recently, as Chairperson of the Board of Waminda, an Aboriginal Health and Welfare Organisation for women and their families, and as a well-respected elder, translator and cultural advisor, Aunty Gail shares her knowledge and expertise to ensure the improvement of health and wellbeing initiatives for Indigenous people.  

Aunty Gail has written and published in a range of journals and magazines on the impacts of communication barriers for Aboriginal people, and she is currently writing a book about her life experiences titled “Hear me See me”, which will further share her knowledge and expertise with the broader community.

The 2018 NAIDOC theme, 'Because of Her We Can', reflected the vital role that Aboriginal women play in our communities. Aunty Gail Wallace truly embodies this theme as an outstanding role model, not only for Aboriginal women but also for the wider community, and her enduring contributions in sharing her wisdom and experience will continue to serve future generations.

Deputy Chancellor, for her outstanding contributions to the legal system, her advocacy on social justice issues, her significant service to the Aboriginal community and as a mentor and role model for Aboriginal women, it is my honour and great privilege to present Aunty Gail Wallace for  a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.