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Celebrating excellence: Dr Mara West

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In celebration of excellence, the finalists for the esteemed Western Australian of the Year Awards have been announced. The annual award honours those who have demonstrated outstanding leadership, and excellence in their commitment and dedication to community service in Western Australia.

Among this year’s distinguished finalists are individuals from diverse backgrounds, each with their own inspiring story of perseverance and courage. Our Chair, Governing Council, Dr Mara West has been named a finalist for the Wesfarmers Aboriginal Award, recognising the remarkable contribution Dr West has made to champion positive change for Aboriginal peoples.

With a public and private sector career spanning more than 40 years, Dr West has always had a passion for ensuring that Aboriginal peoples have access to education and training and rewarding careers.

“I think education and training gives you more choices in life. It can lead to bigger and better things like a better lifestyle, good health and job prospects.

“For Aboriginal people, if they can combine cultural knowledge with mainstream knowledge magic happens!” Dr West said.

An unwavering commitment to making a difference has meant that Dr West has worked with diverse industries, institutions and organisations to ensure positive outcomes for Aboriginal peoples.

Dr West recalls the time when she had a vision to create on-site mining training for Aboriginal students looking to be employed in hospitality roles.

“When I was told it couldn’t be done, I pushed back using negotiation and interpersonal skills to convince senior site managers to agree. Not only did this provide specific, useful training it also gave potential employees insight into life on a mine site,” she said.

Dr West said the program was a success as it resulted in hundreds of students being exposed to valuable training and other opportunities, with many succeeding by getting higher level positions within mining companies.

There is also the responsibility of creating a more equitable and inclusive future by working towards Closing the Gap, and ensuring Aboriginal peoples are equal participants in the State’s economy.

“Aboriginal people have been left behind for too long. They have not had access to education, training and employment opportunities that exist now,” Dr West said.

“We are still not having the success rates in schools and this impacts on the pathway that people choose. I think the problem lies in that many people are not exposed to choices.

“We have to get people to think big like owning and running your own business or being a manager, chief executive officer or director of a company or organisation. We have to expose Aboriginal people to big business and especially successful Aboriginal businesses,” she said.

Dr West said to see a shift in this area, there needs to be more of a focus on services such as mentoring, access to low interest loans, counselling, continuous exposure to information and clever intelligent people.

Although Dr West believes things have improved over time, the improvements have been slow and not to the extent that she had hoped.

“We still have kids coming out of school who still can’t read and write properly. But universities now have bridging courses, Indigenous education units with tutors and other resources. They also do their utmost to attract prospective students and there are Aboriginal lecturers employed and Aboriginal knowledges are valued.”

Dr West shared some advice for today’s Aboriginal youth who are finding it hard to forge their own path.

“Seek out Aboriginal people who work in education and training and have a yarn with them about any opportunities that are available. Alternatively, go to your nearest TAFE College and enquire about what courses are on offer.

“They must also be prepared to work hard and always seek help when they run into difficulties. Surround yourself with positive people and enjoy the journey,” she said.

We would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Dr West for her nomination. The 2024 Western Australian of the Year Awards will be announced on Thursday 30 May.