Congratulations to the 2019 Aboriginal Community Justice Award winners

The Aboriginal Community Justice Awards recognise and pay tribute to the many Aboriginal individuals and groups who work tirelessly to deliver improved justice outcomes for the Victorian Aboriginal community.

2019 Award winners

Children and Youth Award: Emma Thomas

Adult and Elder Award: Uncle Alan Coe

Strengthening Culture Award: Ashleigh Dalton

Uncle Alf Bamblett Award: Uncle Michael Bell



Image of Linda Bamblett, Alfie Bamblett, Michael Bell and Muriel Bamblett

Pictured from left to right: Linda Bamblett, Chairperson, Northern Metropolitan RAJAC, Alfred Bamblett, Chairperson, Victorian Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, Michael Bell, winner of the Dr Alf Bamblett award and Adj. Prof. Muriel Bamblett AM, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja launched

Image of the Fighting Gunditjmara performing at the launch of phase four of the Aboriginal Justice Agreeement

Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja or ‘Senior Leaders Talking Strong’ is the fourth phase of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), 18 years on from the first AJA that was created in response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

It strengthens the Victorian Government’s commitment to self-determination and remains the longest running continuous AJA in the nation. Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja is an important step in the long and proud history of the Aboriginal community and Government working in partnership to improve justice outcomes.

To promote Aboriginal self-determination and provide further support to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system, the Victorian Budget 2018/19 included $40.3 million to support initiatives to be implemented under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, including:

  • $15 million to expand existing community-based justice programs and services and develop new community designed and led approaches
  • $12.3 million for a range of court-based initiatives
  • $10.8 million to target over-representation in Victoria’s youth justice system 
  • $2.2 million to expand the state-wide Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community Program.

Pictured above: A performance by the Fighting Gunditjmara at the launch of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja. Image by James Henry. 


50th Aboriginal Justice Forum held in Shepparton

In April 2018, the 50th Aboriginal Justice Forum since the establishment of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement was held in Shepparton. 

The Aboriginal Justice Forum brings together leaders in the Aboriginal community and the most senior representatives of government departments to promote increased positive participation of the Aboriginal community in the justice system and develop solutions to improve justice outcomes for the Aboriginal community.

Forums are rotated between RAJAC regions, and alternate between regional and metropolitan locations. 

Since 2000 Aboriginal Justice Forums have been hosted all over Victoria, from the far east of the state (AJF 44 in Orbost,  2016) to the western districts (AJF 17 in Horsham, 2007); from the Great Ocean Road (AJF6 in Warrnambool, 2002) to the Murray River (AJFs 42, 19 and 3 in 2001, 2007 and 2015 in Mildura). Forums have also been held across Melbourne, including in Frankston, Northcote, Footscray and Healesville.

Image of AJF member Muriel Bamblett


Koori Youth Crime Prevention Grants

Across Victoria 25 community–based partnership projects were funded under the Koori Youth Crime Prevention Grants, a partnership between the department’s Community Crime Prevention and Koori Justice Units.

The focus for funding was on projects that delivered community strengthening, enhanced family relationships and parenting skills, and offered a holistic approach.

More than $1.5 million worth of grants were awarded to projects to empower and re-engage Aboriginal young people through camps, sporting activities, workshops and education to help prevent them from coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

Image of players from the Fitzroy Stars Football Club. The Fitzroy Stars are based in the Aboriginal community in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

Pictured: Fitzroy Stars Football Club

Royal Commission into Family Violence

The Royal Commission into Family Violence report was tabled into Parliament on 30 March 2016. The report contains 227 recommendations, and was the culmination of a 13-month inquiry. In response to the Royal Commission recommendations, The Victorian Budget 2017–18 provided funding of $26.7 million to support a number of Aboriginal community–led initiatives for family violence prevention and response, including:

  • Koori Women’s Place - a two–year pilot by Djirra that provides a culturally safe family violence service for Aboriginal women victim survivors and their children.
  • State–wide culturally appropriate legal services that delivered by Djirra and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service so that both parties to a matter can access culturally safe legal representation.
  • Community–led family violence prevention and early intervention support to provide opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to participate in Djirra’s family violence prevention and early intervention initiatives including Sister’s Day Out, Dilly Bag, and Young Luv.
  • Ngarra Jarranounith Place - an intensive residential behaviour change program for Aboriginal male perpetrators of family violence, delivered by Dardi Munwurro.

Kaka Wangity, Wangin-Mirrie - Aboriginal Cultural Programs Grants launched


Image of Didgeridoo performance


Launched in 2016, the Kaka Wangity, Wangin-Mirrie grants (English translation: come, listen, hear), are an AJA initiative supporting Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to deliver Aboriginal programs within prisons and Community Correctional Services, to Aboriginal prisoners and offenders.

The programs funded with $2.25 million (until December 2019), were designed to rehabilitate Aboriginal prisoners by focusing on cultural strengthening, family violence, healing, parenting and women’s programs. 

By boosting connections to family and culture, the grants aimed to reduce the risk of reoffending and improve effective reintegration into the community, contributing to a safer Victoria.  


Koori Women’s Diversion Program commences

The Koori Women’s Diversion Program was piloted in 2015–­16 to reduce Aboriginal women’s involvement with the justice system and the impacts of incarceration on their families.

Now operating in Mildura and Morwell, and through Odyssey House Victoria, the program provides intensive case management and support for Aboriginal women referred from the Victorian criminal justice system.

The program has shown positive outcomes including reduced offending, increased engagement with mental health services, and family reunification, and received ongoing funding in the 2017-18 State budget.

Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan launched


Pictured: Coolamon carrying fresh gum leaves, used as part of traditional smoking ceremony during launch.

The Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan was launched in 2015 to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people while incarcerated and upon their release.

For many Aboriginal people, prison provides an opportunity to identify, stabilise and improve mental health through treatment services that may not otherwise have been sought in the community.

This plan recognises the risks that discrimination, unresolved grief, and trauma have on mental health and the influence that spirituality, connection to country and strong cultural identity have on building resilience and protecting against poor mental health.

Launch of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 3


Image of AJA3 hardcover publication

In 2013, the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal community signed the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 3 which continued the work to improve Aboriginal justice outcomes and reduce over-representation in the criminal justice system. 

AJA3 maintained an emphasis on prevention, early intervention and diversion to reduce further progression into the justice system, as well as an increased focus on improving safety of Aboriginal families. 

The evaluation of AJA3 in 2018 found the AJA partnership has been instrumental in effecting real and positive change.

It has helped build strong and durable relationships between agencies and with members of the Victorian Aboriginal community.

Sheriff's Aboriginal Liaison Officer positions established 

In 2010, the Infringement Management and Enforcement Services (now Fines Victoria) established a Sheriff's Aboriginal Liaison Officer (SALO) position located in Mildura. The SALO role was established to provide practical support and assistance to Aboriginal community members seeking to address their outstanding infringement obligations.

The role is also responsible for building and fostering links and to enhance communication and interaction between the Sheriff’s Office and local Aboriginal communities to resolve issues and promote awareness of the role of Sheriff’s Officers within local Aboriginal communities.

SALOs now operate across the state in Grampians, Loddon Mallee, Hume, South, East, and North West Metro.

Opening of the William Cooper Justice Centre


Image of the William Cooper Justice Centre in Melbourne's legal district is named in honour of Yorta Yorta leader, William Cooper.


In 1938 William Cooper led a group of Aboriginal people from his Footscray home to the German Consulate in Melbourne’s CBD to protest the injustices being carried out against the Jews by the Nazis highlighted by Kristellnacht.

This was the only protest in the world against Kristellnacht. Mr Cooper was 78 at the time and after campaigning all his life for Aboriginal people, still had the resolve to support other oppressed people.

In 2010 William was posthumously honoured for this in Israel, and also in Australia through the opening of the William Cooper Justice Centre, named in his honour.

Pictured: William Cooper Justice Centre in Melbourne's legal district, named in honour of Yorta Yorta leader, William Cooper

Introduction of the message stick


Image of a wooden message stick featuring drawings and symbols.

Pictured: AJF message stick, made by renowned Aboriginal artist and Elder the late Uncle Albert Mullet.

The message stick, made by renowned Aboriginal artist and Elder the late Uncle Albert Mullet, was introduced into the Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF) proceedings in 2010.

The message stick is an enduring symbol of the strength of the AJA and illustrates its journey across Victoria, traveling from one AJF to another. As part of the AJF proceedings, the Chair of the hosting Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) engraves a message or symbol on the message stick to represent their community. The message stick is then passed onto the hosting RAJAC of the next Forum.

The message stick symbolises the important role of the RAJACs as part of the AJFs, honouring the work of Elders and leaders in their communities, and reflecting the continuity of culture in contemporary Aboriginal life.





Koori Family Violence Police protocols piloted

The Koori Family Violence Police Protocols are an agreement between local Aboriginal communities and Victoria Police that document the local Police response to Aboriginal family violence.  

The aim of the protocols is to strengthen the police response to incidents of family violence in Aboriginal communities with the longer term goal of reducing both the number of family violence incidents, and the rates of families experiencing repeated incidents of family violence. The protocols are aimed at a holistic, improved response to all parties including victims, children and perpetrators.

In 2008 protocols were piloted to strengthen the police response to Aboriginal family violence in six priority areas. Protocols were developed locally by representatives of key agencies, and are living documents which are regularly updated. The Koori Family Violence Police Protocols now operate in Ballarat, Bairnsdale, Dandenong, Darebin, Mildura, Shepparton, Swan Hill, Wimmera, Warrnambool and LaTrobe


Victoria first County Koori Court opens in Morwell

In 2008 the County Koori Court was established as a Division of the County Court. It draws on the successful implementation of the Koori Court model in both the Magistrates’ Court and the Children’s Court.

The objective of the County Koori Court is to ensure greater participation of the Aboriginal community in the sentencing process through the role played by Aboriginal Elders or Respected Persons and others, such as the Koori Court Officer.

The County Koori Court is the first sentencing court for Aboriginal offenders in a higher jurisdiction in Australia. It sits in the Gippsland, Mildura, and Melbourne County Court.


image of attendees at the opening of Victoria's first County Koori Court in Morwell. 

Pictured: Attendees at the opening of Victoria's first County Koori Court in Morwell, gathered around the Koori Court table - a fine piece of local carpentry work by artist Damien Wright. 

Local Justice Worker Program launched

The AJA includes a range of community grants for communities to deliver local responses to justice-related issues. An example is the Local Justice Worker Program, established in 2008 and delivered by community organisations across 20 locations in Victoria.

Local Justice Workers provide Aboriginal offenders with case support to meet the conditions of their orders through supervised community work opportunities in culturally appropriate environments and connecting with relevant programs and services in the community. They have proven effective in helping Aboriginal people to address fine payments, successfully complete community based orders, and reduce breach rates.

Image of attendees at Local Justice Worker program launch

Pictured: staff from the Department of Justice and Community Safety with Local Justice Workers at the Local Justice Worker Program launch

Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning place opens

Image of an Aboriginal cultural dance performed during the opening.

Pictured: Aboriginal cultural dance performed at the opening of Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning place.

Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place is a statewide, culturally appropriate residential diversion program for Aboriginal men who have been sentenced by the court to a Community Correction Order. It was officially opened in September 2008 as a key initiative of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

It provides up to 18 men at a time the opportunity to learn new skills, reconnect with, or further strengthen their culture and participate in programs and activities to help them address their offending behaviour.

Participation in the program is voluntary and involves living at Wulgunggo Ngalu, in Gippsland, for between three to six months.



Unveiling of the Sir Doug and Lady Gladys Nicholls statue

Married in 1942, together the Nicholls were prominent campaigners for Aboriginal rights and justice. To commemorate their important and tireless work and their lasting legacy, a statue of the couple was unveiled in Parliament Gardens in 2007 and was the first memorial sculpture in Melbourne dedicated to Aboriginal leaders.

Lady Gladys Nicholls was a leading Aboriginal activist whose dedicated community service and commitment to advancing Aboriginal rights was an inspiration to many. She was among a group of resourceful Aboriginal women who worked together to improve the living conditions and wellbeing of their community.

Sir Douglas Nicholls was the pastor of Australia’s first Aboriginal Church of Christ, in Fitzroy, Melbourne from 1935. He began working more with disadvantaged Aboriginal people in the  1940s through the Aboriginal Advancement League.

In 1968 he was awarded an OBE for his work and became a member of the new Victorian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1972 he was the first Aboriginal person to be knighted, and four years later he became the governor of South Australia.

Frontline Youth Initiatives Grants established

The Frontline Youth Initiatives Program provides grants for programs that focus on working with at-risk Aboriginal youth aged 10 to 24.

Programs are community-based and promote physically and socially healthy activities to reduce the likelihood of offending.

These may include programs that promote youth leadership, sporting activities, culture, music, arts, and engagement with education, training or vocational activities.

Aboriginal communities play a major role in determining initiatives for funding with applications requiring endorsement from the local Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees before being submitted to the Department of Justice and Community Safety.




Children's Koori Court launched

The Children's Koori Court was established at Melbourne's Children's Court in 2005 to address the over-representation of young Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.

By involving the Aboriginal community in the court process through the participation of Elders and Respected Persons, the Koori Court aims to reduce offending behaviour and reduce the number of young Aboriginal people being sentenced to a period of detention.

Pictured: Cultural performance at the opening of the Melbourne Children’s Koori Court. Photography by Ilana Rose.


Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer program launched

In 2004, the first Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer Position (ACLO) was launched in Victoria.

This program is an initiative of Victoria Police to enhance the relationship between Victoria Police and Victorian Aboriginal communities.

The ACLO Program facilitates a proactive community policing approach that instigates positive change.

It works to build a solid foundation of trust and respect between Victoria Police and Aboriginal communities, and maintain positive partnerships to foster communication and interaction between Police and the Aboriginal community to resolve issues.

The Kurnai Shield

The Kurnai Shield is an acrylic on canvas created in 2002 by artist Eileen Harrison, a Kurnai woman from Gippsland. “The markings on this shield represent our people and our country.”

In 2003, the artwork was purchased by the Department of Justice and Community Safety to feature as the visual emblem of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA). Since then it has featured prominently on all associated documents and publications.

In 2010, Ms Harrison agreed to allow a stylised version of the artwork to be created, enabling increased promotion of the AJA by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.  

Aboriginal designer Marcus Lee developed the ‘Koori Strong, Koori Proud, Koori Justice’ emblem featuring a stylistic representation of the Kurnai Shield, signifying the evolution of the AJA and coinciding with its 10th Anniversary.

Image of the Kurnai Shield, created in 2002 by artist Eileen Harrison, a Kurnai woman from the Gippsland Region. 

Pictured: Kurnai Shield, created in 2002 by artist Eileen Harrison, a Kurnai woman from the Gippsland Region. 


Victoria's first Koori Court opened in Shepparton

In 2002 the First Koori Court pilot was launched in Shepparton Victoria. The Koori Court was created under the Magistrates Court Act 1989 and it operates as a division of the Magistrates' Court.

Aboriginal Elders or Respected Persons, the Koori Court Officer, and Aboriginal defendants and their families can contribute during the Court hearing.

This helps to reduce perceptions of cultural alienation and to ensure sentencing orders are appropriate to the cultural needs of offenders, and to assist them in addressing issues relating to their offending behaviour.

AJA partnership established

When the first Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA) was launched, a number of governance structures were established to support the AJA partnership. These included:

  • The Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF), responsible for overseeing the development, implementation and monitoring of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. The AJF brought together senior government and Aboriginal community representatives for the first time.
  • The Aboriginal Justice Caucus (formerly named the Koori Caucus) to help shape the AJF agenda, bringing the issues of legal services, education, vulnerable young people, family violence and health to the Forum.
  • The Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) network which originally comprised of six regional committees and has since grown to nine RAJACs that advocate for and promote improved Aboriginal justice outcomes and initiatives by bringing together key Aboriginal community members and justice agencies in each region.

An evaluation of the AJA conducted in 2018 found that the 18 year old AJA partnership has reached a level of maturation not replicated elsewhere and has been instrumental in effecting real change in terms of embedding cultural awareness and the adoption of an Aboriginal lens for the development of new strategies, policies and initiatives.

These partnership structures have facilitated and enabled the development of strong and durable relationships between government agencies and with members of the Victorian Aboriginal community and have been instrumental in giving voice to Aboriginal people across the state – from small regional communities through to highly urbanised centres.

Launch of the inaugural Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement

In 2000 Victoria launched the first Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA) (External link), an agreement between the Victorian Government and the Victorian Aboriginal community to work together to improve Aboriginal justice outcomes. This was the Victorian Government's direct response to a recommendation of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Victorian AJA remains the single longest running AJA in the nation.

Government and Aboriginal community representatives have built upon the first AJA with a renewed commitment to improving justice outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians through subsequent phases of the Agreement launched in 2006, 2013, and with Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja in 2018.