Announced today by the NSW Minister for Women, the Hon. Bronnie Taylor MP, the award recognises “a role model who promotes economic, cultural and/or social wellbeing of Aboriginal people in NSW”.
Associate Professor Riley, a Wiradjuri and Gamilaroi woman from Dubbo and Moree, was nominated for her outstanding contribution to education and leadership in Aboriginal student support. For more than 30 years, she has educated future teachers about Aboriginal communities and culture, promoting awareness to overcome racism.
As a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney School of Education and Social Work, her current work is focused on maintaining kinship connections for Indigenous children in foster care. She is editing a book, mainly by Aboriginal authors, on this subject.
“This is a really different approach,” she said. “I am trying to ensure we get Aboriginal voices out there.” She is also developing a series of books for carers to assist them to help children in their care maintain cultural connections.
In the past, Aboriginal English was perceived as defective English.
Another ongoing project of hers concerns Aboriginal English. Now recognised as a formal language, Aboriginal English, used by a majority of communities, combines English words with a traditional Aboriginal grammatical structure.
“In the past, it was perceived as defective English. It needs to be further understood, so that children who use it in schools are not ‘corrected’,” she said. This project relates to her work as a board member of the NSW Aboriginal Languages Trust.
Associate Professor Riley has always been a trailblazer. She was the first person in her family to complete high school and gain access to higher education. This was particularly validating for her, as her parents were only allowed to complete schooling up to Year 4.
She went on to work in Aboriginal education and administration in primary schools, high schools, TAFE, state office and higher education.
She helped develop the first NSW Aboriginal Education Policy in 1982 and was instrumental in establishing Aboriginal presence in universities, including, initially, the Oorala Centre at the University of New England in 1986. She was appointed State Manager for NSW Aboriginal Education in 2003 and held this position until 2006.
A long-time advocate for reconciliation, she was Chair of the Dubbo Reconciliation Group and State Chair of NSW Reconciliation. She believes that reconciliation is vital if we are to foster understanding and move forward as a nation.
Her passion for connection to Country has had an enormous impact on the lives of Aboriginal women across generations.
As a child, I remember learning from Lynette; an Aboriginal woman standing up for Aboriginal rights. Later, as a single mother of four, Lynette inspired me to complete my degree. She shared her cultural knowledge with my children and taught them language and dance.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Associate Professor Riley achieved her work while she raised seven children and survived three encounters with cancer. Her personal experiences inspired her to join the Foundation for Breast Cancer Care, where she is investigating the special needs of Aboriginal women in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Professor Debra Hayes, Head, School of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney, said: “Lynette’s selection as a 2021 NSW Woman of the Year finalist is a fitting acknowledgement of her leadership as a community Elder. Her deep understanding of kinship connections for Aboriginal children and families has made a significant contribution to Aboriginal research design and data collection, and to increasing non-Aboriginal people's understanding of the significance and importance of these connections.”
The 2021 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year will be announced by the NSW Premier on 10 March, alongside the winners of a suite of other awards for women.