NSW Seniors Citizen of the Year Vilma Ryan of Goonellabah joined Charles Perkins for Freedom Rides in the 60s. Cathy Adams
NSW Seniors Citizen of the Year Vilma Ryan of Goonellabah joined Charles Perkins for Freedom Rides in the 60s. Cathy Adams

Activist wins award for work

"WHAT I most want to see before I pass over is sovereignty," said Wiradjuri woman and long-time Aboriginal activist, Vilma Ryan.

Ms Ryan, 72, of Goonellabah, this week was awarded a 2012 NSW Seniors Week achievement award for her lifelong work as an activist for justice for Aboriginal people and in recognition of her many contributions to Aboriginal education, art and culture.

Ms Ryan and her daughter, Janelle Maunder of Drake, travelled to Sydney to accept her award at a ceremony at the City Recital Hall on Monday.

"When I looked around the auditorium and saw about 30 family and friends who'd all travelled there to be with me, it lifted my heart spiritually," she told The Northern Star. When I was wheeled on to the stage, my granddaughter draped an Aboriginal flag over my shoulders.

"It reminded me of when I was a torchbearer for the Sydney Olympics and I had an Aboriginal flag tucked into my thuddawittles (Wiradjuri for "undies") and I took it out and waved it. An Olympics official came and took it away; but I had another one, so I waved that!"

One of the proudest episodes of Ms Ryan's life was being one of "Charlie's Angels", a group of six Aboriginal women chosen by activist Charles Perkins to fight discrimination against their people. They joined Mr Perkins on the Freedom Rides through NSW in 1965.

"We still get together for "Thelma and Louise" road trips," she said with a laugh.

Ms Ryan was a volunteer at Redfern's Murrawina Preschool.

In 1986 she sent an invitation to Michael Jackson, who was in Australia with his new album, Bad, to visit the preschool. Swearing her to total secrecy, he came and met with staff, parents and children there to discuss issues facing Aboriginal Australians.

He gave Ms Ryan 100 tickets to his Parramatta show when he heard the school community could not afford to go.

Ms Ryan broke 22 years of silence only after the death of the star.

As well as this Seniors Week award, Ms Ryan was named an Unsung Hero by the University of New England in 2010.



Wind blows fires close to buildings

Wind blows fires close to buildings

"Wind started to pick up and brought it close in and around a few sheds”

He works 18 hours a day, but earned only $700 last month

premium_icon He works 18 hours a day, but earned only $700 last month

He works a crazy 14 to 18 hours a day

Terrifying break-ins have residents on edge

premium_icon Terrifying break-ins have residents on edge

"He left female underwear behind and also left blood in our sink"

Local Partners