July 5th, 2023 Order of Australia for staunch advocate
Words: Eve Lamb. Image: Supplied
“Grateful” is the way Clunes local, proud Yorta Yorta and Barkandji woman, Karen Heap humbly described being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia.
“I’m not really an awards sort of person,” said the highly respected Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative CEO, who was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in the recently announced King’s Birthday honours.
Speaking to The Local just ahead of NAIDOC week, Ms Heap (pictured above) said she is “fully supportive” of The Voice To Parliament and urged all Australians to support it.
The Clunes-based Indigenous leader also encouraged everyone to get along to any of the many activities taking place this week as part of NAIDOC Week including the NAIDOC Family Fun Day in Ballarat Showgrounds Great Hall this Wednesday July 5.
Her recent OA honour acknowledges the fact that for just shy of 20 years this Hepburn Shire local has been leading advocacy for the betterment of the region’s First Nations peoples.
There are now known to be about 4000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the wider Ballarat region, and that figure is understood to be increasing with more people moving from Melbourne to regional Victoria.
Indeed, some of those making the shift report moving to the region due to BADAC’s reputation for healthcare and Indigenous support and cultural programs – programs which have expanded under Ms Heap’s leadership.
“I just do my job and that’s the way I see it – just doing my best job for the community needs,” said Ms Heap who paid homage to the entire team at BADAC, stating all of the staff there were responsible for its achievements.
“There is a lot happening at BADAC and hopefully it’s for the betterment of the whole community,” she said.
“Our growth and being sustainable is important so we don’t need to rely on government.”
The new OA appointee says sharply rising living costs are currently seeing growing demand for crisis support being placed on BADAC and other welfare organisations in the Ballarat area.
“We’re trying to think of new ways of supporting community,” she said. “We’re also supplying more emergency support.”
Providing a new means to showcase the region’s, and other, Indigenous art talent is just one recent example of how the work of BADAC is benefiting the wider community as a whole.
Earlier this year BADAC opened its first gallery dedicated to Indigenous art and storytelling, while also preparing to open the cooperative’s third childcare centre in the region.
Perridak Art Gallery opened in Ballarat’s Mair Street three months ago as a way to empower First Nations artists both through generating income and sharing their storytelling.
Highly respected community Elder Uncle Frank Laxton, recounts that he identified Ms Heap as the future leader of BADAC way back in 2004.
“My heart is very full when I say that she has surpassed my hopes and expectations in every way,” Uncle Frank said.
“Since 2004, Karen has served untiringly as CEO of BADAC, giving many extra hours. Karen has driven the strategic vision and significant social, cultural and economic expansion of BADAC.
“Karen has introduced a wide range of family support services, including family violence programs, social and emotional well-being, kinship care, housing and justice.
“She envisioned, secured funding for, and delivered a brand new $6 million dollar culturally safe medical clinic and an Elders’ Independent Living Village.
“She drove the realisation of two culturally safe early years centres, opened by BADAC in 2021 and 2022, which re-connect Aboriginal families to education.
“Karen is widely regarded as an inspirational leader by her staff and colleagues, government agencies and bodies, and most importantly, by her community, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of the broader Ballarat region.”