Dr. Lois Peeler AM – a Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri elder, political activist and former singer of 1960s girl group The Sapphires – has been named Female Elder Of The Year at the 2022 NAIDOC Awards ceremony in Melbourne.
NAIDOC week – an acronym for National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee – commenced over the weekend (Sunday July 3) and ends this Sunday (July 10). The annual series of events, including the award ceremony, is held to recognise the outstanding contributions made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – particularly to improve the lives of those in their communities – and to promote Indigenous issues to the wider Australian consensus.
This year’s NAIDOC Award ceremony, held last Saturday (July 2) at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, saw Dr. Peeler bestowed with the title of Female Elder Of The Year in recognition for her ongoing activism for Aboriginal education, the improvement of living conditions in Indigenous communities, and more.
Born in Shepparton, Dr. Peeler’s family were from the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Reserves. At age 17, in the 1960s, she became the country’s first Aboriginal model. Dr. Peeler then went on to join The Sapphires. With the singing group – comprised entirely of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women – Dr. Peeler toured Vietnam in 1968 and the height of the war.
The Sapphires’ experiences in Vietnam was adapted for a play, straightly titled The Sapphires, written by Dr. Peeler’s nephew, Tony Briggs. Based on the true stories of both Dr. Peeler and her sister, Briggs’ mother Laurel Robinson, the play was then adapted into a musical comedy-drama film, which was released in 2012 and starred Jessica Mauboy.
Outside of her involvement with the arts, Dr. Peeler’s work evolved to include political activism for Indigenous rights and education. Along with her sister, Hyllus Maris, she established Australia’s only Aboriginal girls’ boarding school, Worawa Aboriginal College.
In 2014, Dr. Peeler was made a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia, awarded to her for “significant service to the Indigenous community as an educator, advocate and role model”. Among her many achievements, Dr. Peeler most recently collaborated with the Victorian government to create a free e-learning resource as part of the state’s curriculum, dubbed ‘Aboriginal Change Makers’.
On receiving the NAIDOC Award, Dr. Peeler said: “I feel very honoured and a little overwhelmed actually, but very proud and humbled. My parents always said we could do whatever we set our minds to, and I grew up with that thinking. We were always taught to do our best. I’ve had a lot of wonderful opportunities that came from that.”