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Ellen José educational resources

The following education guide is designed to support student participation in the Ellen José Student Reconciliation Awards 2023.

Who was Ellen José?

Ellen José (1951-2017) was a pioneer in Australia's urban Indigenous art movement and a radical activist and social justice campaigner. Ellen José was a long-time resident of Bayside and in her honour, her family has established two important awards, the Ellen José Student Reconciliation Awards and the Ellen José Art Award for young women.

Ellen José Student Reconciliation Awards 2023

  • The Ellen José Student Reconciliation Awards honour the life of Torres Strait Elder Ellen José. Ellen’s contribution to the arts and Bayside was outstanding and inspirational in raising awareness of reconciliation. 
  • Established in 2018, the awards are aimed at Bayside primary and secondary school students, bringing awareness of reconciliation to our young people, who are the future of Australia, through art and writing. Entrants are asked to interpret ‘As a young person, what does Reconciliation mean to you?’ in their artwork or writing piece. 
  • The Ellen José Memorial Foundation supports the Awards.

Curriculum Links

Participation in the award has links to English, Humanities and Social Sciences, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, Arts.

What is Reconciliation?

Reconciliation is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Aboriginal Australians talking, walking, and working together to overcome the division and inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal Australians. It is about addressing and acknowledging our true history and righting the wrongs. It is not one act but a journey that requires a commitment from non-Indigenous Australians to take ownership and responsibility for their own learning and role in the process of reconciliation.

The Five Dimensions of Reconciliation

Reconciliation Victoria defines meaningful reconciliation through five key inter-related dimensions, based on Reconciliation Australia’s State of Reconciliation in Australia Report (2016). In Victoria, we see these five dimensions as:

  1. Overcoming racism and understanding white privilege and power relations. Strong legal protection against racism; zero tolerance for racism across the community; strong cultural awareness and competence within organisations and communities.
  2. Achieving equitable outcomes in justice, health, education and employment between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and other Victorians: Appropriately resourced programs enabling the achievement of equity through self-determination; Victorian government achieving Closing the Gap targets.
  3. Developing a new State-wide identity: The sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is recognised by all (including through establishing a Treaty); the significance of self-determination is recognised and valued; all Victorians have an opportunity to connect with a shared sense of place.
  4. Ensuring government, corporate and community accountability: State government policy outcomes are transparent; appropriate protocols/principles inform state government policy development; organisations are accountable for their reconciliation plans and commitments, and are developing MOUs with Aboriginal groups and communities.
  5. Addressing historical injustice: Truthful education of Australian history and integration of Aboriginal history into curriculum; full implementation of the Bringing Them Home Report (1997) recommendations to address lack of justice for those affected by Stolen Generations; full implementation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report recommendations (1991); and truthful community narratives of local history - such as memorials to frontier wars, place names reflecting shared history and local Aboriginal language.

In addition to the above dimensions, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) also underpins our work and provides an additional framework for us to understand meaningful reconciliation.

Getting Started

Inquiry Questions;

Use these questions as a conversation starting point with your students and yourself to explore concepts around reconciliation.

  • What do you know about the history of Reconciliation week? 
  • Why is it significant? 
  • Why is it important?
  • What might be some of the shared and different experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia?
  • Why is it important to recognise both the similarities and differences within and across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities when learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures? 
  • Why is important for all Australians to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as part of our ‘national identity’? 
  • What are some key milestones that have been made in Australia’s reconciliation journey in your lifetime and/or before you were born? 
  • What are some milestones that you hope will be achieved in the next 20 years of our reconciliation journey, and why? 
  • What could you— together with others—do to turn the ideas from the 2023 National Reconciliation Week theme into meaningful action? 
  • Why is celebrating National Reconciliation Week important to Reconciliation?

Handy Resources

The following websites offer some great examples of literature and visual arts for you to explore with you students:


Creative Spirits features a number of poems and written pieces of contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature and poems: 

Visual Arts: 

These websites offer an insight into the visual arts design of the 2021 and 2022 National Reconciliation Week branding and may help students understand how to use symbolism, colour, and pattern to communicate reconciliation messages:

Reconciliation Australia #NRW2021 artwork: action

Reconciliation Australia  Be brave. make change: artwork

Ellen José works in the NGV Collection:


Reconciliation Victoria: What is reconciliation?