Life On The Job

Indigenous Famous Person's Story

Nova Maree Peris, OAM (25th February 1971 -  ), First Indigenous Woman in Federal Parliament  Senator, Consultant

Nova Peris
(Source: SMH March 2020)

Nova Peris profile:

  • Ran first leg of torch relay ahead of Sydney 2000 Games bare foot, paying homage to her Aboriginal ancestors.
  • First Aboriginal Australian to win Olympic gold medal, in women's hockey at 1996 Atlanta Games [and the first Northern Territorian to win an Olympic gold medal - Source: NT Library]
  • Won gold in 200m and 4x100m relay at 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
  • Named Young Australian of the year 1997.
  • Designed two Olympic coins, one of which won second prize at 1998 World Coin Fair.
  • In 1998 then prime minister John Howard requested she be a member of the Constitutional Convention to discuss Australia's constitutional future. (Source: ABC News)
  • Nova retired from the Senate in 2016


(Source: Nova Peris - SkyNews)


"She is a traditional owner/descendent of and identifies with the Kiga People of the East Kimberley, Yawuru People of the West Kimberley (Broome) and Muran People of West Arnhem land NT.

Nova was born and raised in Darwin and her mother, grandmother and grandfather are all members of the ‘Stolen Generations’ from respective missions on the Tiwi islands, Moola Bulla of the East Kimberley and Beagle Bay of the West Kimberley."
(Source: Territory Labor)

Born in February 1971, Peris and her younger sister were raised by their mother, a single parent, in a small house in Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory. When Peris was 10, her mother remarried and, according to Peris, the atmosphere changed drastically.

"My stepfather was a policeman [Les Chapman], a very hard, strict man," she said. "I was really stubborn as a kid and him coming into our lives at such a late stage, he was stubborn and I was stubborn and he had to sort of chase me down to grab hold of me. There was none of that 'sit in the corner and face the wall' kind of thing. I was always being chased across the road with a strap. But he was fair. He hated lying, so as a kid, if you ever told a fib, you got the belt. If you told the truth, it was fine."

At 13, largely because of a dearth of track and field programs in Darwin, Peris focused her energies on field hockey, a popular sport throughout Australia, and was soon one of the best prospects in the country, but in 1990, at 19, she gave birth to Jessica.

Nova Peris

"The whole 12 months after Jessie was born, I was just happy being a mum," she said. "It wasn't until 1991 that I thought, 'The dream is still there: If you want, you can go after it."'

The following year, she moved to the western city of Perth, where the national hockey team trains. She took a job with the Australian telephone company and juggled day care, practice and part-time employment while Jessica's father and Peris' future husband, Sean Kneebone, remained in Darwin attempting to build a career of his own.
(Source: NY Times)

Nova Peris at Atlantic Olympics
Nova Peris tackles Lee Eun-Kyung of South Korea during the women's field hockey final at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Nova Peris and Gold medal
Nova Peris and Rechelle Hawkes after the gold medal presentation at 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.
Peris was the first Indigenous athlete to win Olympic gold.
Picture: Trent Parke


While enrolled at Rapid Creek Primary school, Nova would frequently run away from school. (p.43)
—“I hated being in an enclosed environment, or being cooped up. And I was always ready to take on a challenge.”

When she was in high school, Nova and her friends would frequently truant. When her stepfather (Darwin policeman Les Chapman [Chappy]) became aware of this, he punished her harshly. At one point, Chapman smashed Nova’s sporting trophies, declaring, “these mean nothing unless you get a good education.

At the time, Nova resented her stepfather’s chastisement. However, her appreciation of the value of education increased, to the point that she would prefer her own children to pursue tertiary education over a sporting career.
—“Of course, Chappy was right. Sport on its own doesn’t mean a thing unless you get a good education too. I was messing up and that day was a turning in my life in terms of education.”

—“With them both, I don’t care if they play sport at a high level – or whether or not they are success at that – although I’ll he happy if it turns out that way. More importantly, I want Jess and Destiny[ her children] to get a good education….
(Source: ANU)

Experiences & Work:

Nova Peris with daughter Jessica
Nova Peris, with daughter Jessica, at Uluru during practice for the start of the Torch Relay ahead of Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Picture: Craig Borrow

"Over the last 15 years, Nova has worked extensively in community in roles of:

  • Promotional & advocacy campaigns for domestic violence, youth, depression, youth suicide

  • Delegate to the National Constitution Convention

  • National patron for Beyond Blue

  • National Treaty Ambassador and facilitator

  • International Indigenous Rights Ambassador – repatriation of human remains at Manchester UK Museum

  • International Ambassador for – World Health Organisation & Griffith University – Youth Suicide Prevention

  • National Ambassador for Reconciliation Australia

  • International Ambassador for ‘Hepatitis Australia’ – “World Hepatitis Day’

  • DoHA - Development of Communications Strategy and implementation strategy of the CHC

  • ‘Strong Community Life’ alcohol responsibility implementation strategy

  • NSW ‘Good 4 Kids – Good 4 Life’ - NSW Hunter Valley healthy eating campaign

  • Worked with FaHCSIA – Economic Development and CDEP reform branch

  • Worked with ‘Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ Media, Marketing & Events coordinator

  • KLC – Dampier Peninsula Land & Sea Planning Project – Land Tenure reform/ Governance and Land Use Planning

  • Co-ordinated the 2011 – Long Walk; coordinated with the ‘Dreamtime at the G’

  • Co-ordinated the‘Learn – Earn - Legend’ Careers Expo

  • Set up 3 ‘Girls Academies’ on behalf of the Northern Territory Government – Nightcliff, Sanderson & Dripstone

Nova has also been the Vice President of Northern Territory Hockey, is acknowledged in the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Hall of Fame and has written an autobiography “Nova – My Story”.

My Story

Nova was named Young Australian of the Year in 1997 and was also awarded an Order of Australia Medal.

Young Australian of the Year 1997

But perhaps the most extraordinary achievement Nova has had that is the establishment of the Nova Peris Girls Academy (NGPA) in St Johns College, Darwin.

Nova Peris Girls Academy

Over the last 3 years Nova has spent extensive time researching global best-in-class models of mentoring, supporting, educating and engaging young Indigenous girls. She then set up the NGPA which is an innovative female focused school ‘Life Excellence’ program aimed at keeping Aboriginal Girls’ engaged with education.

The NGPA is viewed as an intensive attendance, attainment and life skills development program. It utilises a range of learning tools developed by the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship customised exclusively for the NPGA.

These educational tools and mentoring methodologies encourage Aboriginal girls to develop the skills that are necessary to build their capacity whilst promoting and equipping the girls to take control of their own futures and fulfil their potential.

In the last 12 months at St Johns College about 80 Indigenous girls have had their lives supported and improved by Nova, Scott [Nova's husband] and Jess [her daughter]."
(Source: Women in Focus: Nova Peris: Achievements of an Outstanding Woman By Catriona Wallace)

In 2016, Department of Health and Human Services [Victoria] employed Nova for 12 months to “develop a statewide plan to boost participation in sport and recreation for Aboriginal children and young people”.

In October 2018, Ms Peris, who is a national patron of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association, spoke at a conference run by the University of Melbourne’s department of rural health and the Western Victoria Primary Health Network.

Sporting Archibald Prize Entry 2000
Nova Peris Kneebone 2000
Sporting Archibald Prize entry
Glenda Jones

[Image Credit:
National Portrait Gallery]

Opportunities & Training:

  • "Throughout her sporting career, Nova has travelled to 52 countries around the world, and lived for a substantial amount of time in America. Peris lists her favourite international travel destinations – Canada and Germany – although declares that her preference is ultimately for Australia.

  • The Sydney Olympics Organising Commitee: Invited Nova to carry the Olympic torch at Uluru, and let her daughter run beside her.

  • Nova recalls and reflects on her sporting success. She is from a sporting family, and demonstrated athletic ability from a young age. She excelled at basketball, touch football, swimming, hockey, cricket, athletics and Australian Rules.

    —“I never took little steps. I remember one day being sick and tired of a kid who was taking all my toys, so I just got up and ran and ran. And I’ve been running ever since…”

  • Nova played “every sport there was to play”, and in Year 10 she was asked to represent the Northern Territory in five team sports alone. As she grew older, Nova became particularly obsessed with hockey, and used to practice constantly in her backyard. She believes that this informal practice, which is common in Aboriginal communities, played a large role in her success.
    —“This is the best way to learn, I reckon – very natural and non-structured – and is the same sort of beginning that produces so many good Aboriginal footballers.

  • Nova recalls how her self-confidence, instilled by her stepfather, enabled her to maintain her persistence and passion, even when others questioned her ability.

    —“The messages are simple: be true to yourself; set your heart on the things your really want and then go for them without being deflected by others or letting other people stand in your way; grab opportunity in both hands when it presents itself.”

    —“The universal ingredients for success are nothing magical or fancy. The main one is pure hard work.

  • In her acceptance speech for the Young Australian of the Year, which she reproduces in her autobiography, Nova claims that everyone is capable of achieving the same success as she if they hold to these principles.
    —“I have come a long way from being just a girl from Darwin… the little girl with a dream,’ I said. ‘I believe that everyone is born with talent – and if I can do what I have done, then anyone can achieve their own dreams…(Source: ANU)



bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Olympic Committee

Australian Olympic Committee
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Enough Rope

Enough Rope
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Women's Register

Australian Women's Register

bullet.gif (981 bytes) ANU - Indigenous Australia - Nova Peris

ANU Indigenous Australia

bullet.gif (981 bytes)New York Times

New York Times
bullet.gif (981 bytes)The Guardian - 7th September 2013

The Guardian
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bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Athletics - Historical Results

AA Historical Results
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Territory Labor

Territory Labor


Did You Know?

Australian Federal Parliament has two Houses: The House of Representatives and The Senate.

There are currently 150 members of the House of Representatives, each representing one geographic area of Australia. Members are elected for a 3 year term and when in parliament take part in debate on proposed laws and public policy, representing the views of the people in their electorate.


The Senate is one of the two houses of the Australian Federal Parliament. It consists of 76 senators, twelve from each of the six states and two from each of the mainland territories. It shares the power to make laws with the other House of the Parliament, the House of Representatives.
(Source: APH)

Australian Parliament House
(Source: Wikipedia)

On 9 May 1988, what was generally referred to as the “New Parliament House” was opened by her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The building design was chosen from a two-stage competition from a process begin in 1978 by the Fraser government. The competition winner was the New York-based architectural company of Mitchell/Giurgola, with the on-site work directed by Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola. (Source: APH)

New Parliament House was the most expensive building in the world at the time of its construction. (Source: Wikipedia)

Adam Giles
Adam Giles (Source:

Adam Graham Giles became the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in March 2013 and was Australia's first Indigenous head of government.


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Online: Create a Story about Nova Peris

PrimaryPrimary, MiddleMiddle & High SchoolSecondary

Literacy Australian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

ICT capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: Information and communication technology (ICT) capability

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culturesAustralian Curriculum: Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures


1. Read Nova's story. What inspirational quote could you apply to yourself from Nova's story.

2. Using the information from the websites listed above, write a story about your inspirational quote using Storify.  




bullet.gif (981 bytes)Black Lives Matter

High SchoolSecondary

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culturesAustralian Curriculum: Cross Curriculum Priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures



1. This BTN short video, aired 0n the 16 June 2020, will update you about the Black Lives Matter here in Australia. Video



As a group of 3 - 4 students, read the following transcript from ABC's Q&A Program 3 March 2020 and watch the video. ReadingVideo


Nova Peris has revealed the extent of the racial abuse she received during her political career, and suggested that "unfinished business" may one day inspire a return to Parliament.

Ms Peris became the first female Indigenous Australian to be elected to Federal Parliament in 2013, and was a champion for Indigenous issues and rights — something she said made her a target for racist trolls. "Because I started to speak out about certain things, if not every day then every second day I would just be attacked by racist trolls," Ms Peris said.

"Mail was sent, phone calls [saying] 'Get back in your box, you black bitch'. "I had death threats. The AFP were tracking down mail that was sent to me. This is what I had to endure."

Ms Peris said she was worn down by the abuse, and left Parliament not only because her "family needed [her]", but because she was being forced to compromise her own Indigenous identity — though she did leave the door open for a return to politics.

"I sort of felt there were elements of me and what I believed in that were starting to be compromised, and I couldn't compromise who I was as an Aboriginal person," she said. "I still have to go back to country. Irrespective of whether I was a politician, I'm first and foremost an Aboriginal person. "I have inherent responsibilities to be a voice because my mum didn't have a voice, my grandparents. No-one had a voice. "But my children needed me the most. Not to say I wouldn't go back one day. I feel there's unfinished business."

Nova Peris describes her experiences of racism. 'People fear when an Aboriginal person speaks out'. When questioned about the implications of speaking about race on a national stage, be it in Parliament or on television, Ms Peris was forthright.

"People fear when an Aboriginal person speaks out," she said. "When you're an Aboriginal person in this country and speak out and start calling racism out, you get attacked, because for so long this country has had this thought process.

"Racism is about inferior races. White is up here. Black is down there. That's how this country has been built.

"1993 was when the Eddie Mabo High Court decision was made. It knocked out the notion of terra nullius. "They had inherited mentally that the country belonged to 'no man'. So it meant our lives as Aboriginal people, we were nothing.

"And so when people often talk about the history of this country, the history of this country is violent. There's been the attempted genocide. There's been the massacres. There's been the poisoning. There's been the rapes. There's been so much, and it's horrible. "The truth just gets to people and they don't want to have a bar of it. But us as Aboriginal people, we inherit that every day."

But Ms Peris said she still had a "glass half full" attitude and believed Australians could work towards a more unified future. "In order to go forward, we can't repeat the wrongs of the past, and that goes with how we care for country and sustain it. We need to put practical things into place to ensure we never go back there," she said. "My great-grandfather said we breathe the same air and all bleed one red blood.

"I know how much this country can gel together. It's about respecting our indifferences and treating people equally."
(Source: ABC Q&A 3 March 2020)


2. List 3 adjectives you felt reading this report from Nova.

3. Share, if you like, with your group these adjectives.


Discuss with your group: How do these words make you feel?






Material Sourced:
ABC News;
ANU - Indigenous Australia - Nova Peris;

National Portrait Gallery;
New York Times;
NT Library;
Women in Focus: Nova Peris: Achievements of an Outstanding Woman By Catriona Wallace


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