WLA - Nova Peris
Former Federal Senator and Olympian

Nova Peris OAM OLY MAICD was Australia’s first Aboriginal woman elected to Federal Parliament and the first Aboriginal Australian and Northern Territorian to win an Olympic Gold Medal.

She is one of a very few athletes who have represented their country in two different sports; hockey and athletics in separate Olympic Games. She is the only person in the entire world to make back-to-back Summer Olympic Games finals in two different sports.

Peris has also completed her Institute of Company Directors course, adding MAICD credentials to her name.

Peris is currently addressing the licensing issues surrounding the Aboriginal flag in a campaign called #freetheflag. She took the fight to Canberra with two other people and has successfully got a motion passed in the senate through Greens Senator Rachel Siewert calling on the government to do everything possible to free the flag.

She is also coaching her son in Athletics. He is now an Australian champion and Victorian record holder.

Recently, Peris appeared on reality television show Australian Survivor, filmed in Fiji.

The Northern Territorian, born in Darwin in 1971, survived Cyclone Tracy in 1974, was an outstanding talent as a hockey player.

Olympics: She became the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal when she was a member of the victorious Hockeyroos in Atlanta in 1996. She also became the first mother to be a gold medalist for Australia since Shirley Strickland in 1956. Peris was later appointed Vice President of Northern Territory Hockey.

After the team’s Atlanta success, Peris made a decision to turn her remarkable talents to athletics. She excelled on the track, winning the 200m and 4x100m gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur before the climax of her athletics career: a return to the Olympics in Sydney, where she reached the semi-finals of the 400m and was a member of Australia’s 4 x 400m relay team, which placed fifth. She spent a week with the great Muhammad Ali on his visit to Australia.

Peris’ twin achievements – being the first Aboriginal Olympic champion and achieving in two different sports at Olympic level – marks her as one of Australia’s finest athletes. Nova is still ranked in the Australian All Time top 10 for the 100m, 200m and 400m. She was a semi-finalist in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics and her 51.28s quarter-final run was a Personal Best.

Olympic Torch: On the 8th of June 2000, Peris was the first Australian to run with the Sydney 2000 torch on home soil. After being passed through the hands of Aboriginal elders, she ran a stretch around Uluru with her 10-year-old daughter Jessica, before passing the torch to Ernie Dingo.

Advocacy: Pride in her Aboriginal identity is a vital ingredient in the ultimate success story that Peris has become. She inspires other Aboriginal people to take pride in who they are, but she also works hard at changing attitudes throughout the Australian community.

Peris has fought for Aboriginal people to have a better life and to heal Australian society in many ways. As a treaty ambassador for the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), she has travelled around the country, campaigning for a treaty between black and white so that a fundamental understanding between two groups can be forged. Peris has also been appointed to roles that include International Indigenous Human Rights Ambassador – repatriation of human remains at Manchester UK Museum and National Ambassador for Reconciliation Australia.

Peris has actively participated in promotional and advocacy campaigns for domestic violence, youth, depression, youth suicide. She is a former Board Member and National Patron for Beyond Blue. She has served as the International Ambassador for World Health Organisation and Griffith University Youth Suicide Prevention and International Ambassador for ‘Hepatitis Australia’ – ‘World Hepatitis Day’.

Politics: On 7 September 2013, Nova Peris became Australia’s first Aboriginal woman elected to Federal Parliament as a Senator for the Northern Territory. During her time in Parliament she was a member of several Senate Committees and inquiries, including the Education and Employment References Committee, Finance and Public Administration Legislation and References Committees and the Senate Community Affairs Legislation and References Committees. Peris resigned in 2016, ahead of the elections after serving out her term, to spend more time with her kids including coaching her son in Athletics who is now an Australian champion and Victorian record holder.

Awards & Recognition: Nova Peris was awarded Young Australian of the Year in January 1997, she received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in January 1997 and the Australian Sports Medal in June 2000. She is also acknowledged in the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Hall of Fame.

Peris was a subject for the Archibald prize, appearing in a stunning portrait by Aboriginal artist Jandamarra Cadd. He is also painting her portrait as the First Aboriginal woman in Federal Politics. This work will be unveiled later in the year to hang permanently in Parliament House, Canberra.

Author: Nova has written an autobiography ‘Nova – My Story’ and another book ‘Nova – Finding My Voice’ that includes a selection of her favourite speeches, including some she made in Federal Parliament.