By Jed Lanyon
Oonah CEO Anne Jenkins has been recognised as Yarra Ranges Council’s Citizen of the Year.
Ms Jenkins, a Kamilaroi woman from north-western New South Wales, was one of the founding board members of the Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association (HICSA, now Oonah Health and Community Services Aboriginal Corporation) when it was incorporated in 2009.
Speaking to Star Mail, Ms Jenkins said being recognised as Citizen of the Year was “unbelievable”.
“I’m still trying to come to terms with it, it’s such a great honour and something that’s very humbling,” she said.
“I don’t know who was responsible for the nomination but I just felt so overwhelmed and speechless.”
Ms Jenkins worked in health promotion at Oonah, and currently serves as CEO. as of 2021, she has contributed over 23 years working with First Nations people in the Yarra Valley.
The award was accepted by Ms Jenkins’ children as she is currently away in New South Wales.
She said it came with “mixed emotions” on 26 January; A day that she feels is one of mourning for her community.
“We’re hoping that in the future we will be able to settle on a day that we can all celebrate for the same reasons but it has mixed meanings for us as Survival Day. We like to think of it as we’ve survived.”
“For some people, it’s the day when Australia, the country, was stolen from Aboriginal people, so there are many mixed emotions about it.
“But at an organisational and individual level, we’ve been working through Oonah for many years to bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together through reconciliation to build a brighter future together for us all.”
Ms Jenkins said it had been “an amazing journey” helping Oonah grow into the organisation it is today.
During her time at Oonah, Ms Jenkins has helped the organisation deliver programs and services for people of all ages in the community, with the long-term goal of establishing a Belonging Place in the region for First Nations people.
“There had been a lot of groundwork done leading up to the 2009 incorporation. We’ve even wanted to give up at times, but we stuck our heels in and kept going.
“It’s very satisfying to see how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved since those early days.”
Ms Jenkins said she was most proud of the fact that Oonah is still growing stronger.
“We’ve grown from such a small organisation that nobody recognised to now being recognised as a leader in the community in the outer east. We’re seeing the team grow, and it’s an amazing team of people who work together to help realise our dream.
“I’m just deeply honoured to be given this amazing acknowledgement and I look forward to being able to continue the work through Oonah that we do with the community to build a healthy, strong and skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Melbourne’s outer east.”